Today, the European Parliament has taken a first but much too small step to tackle the challenge of overfishing in the Mediterranean Sea, the most overexploited sea basin in the world.
The European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries (PECH) has voted on a management plan to reduce the environmental impacts of fishing activities in the Western Mediterranean (covering waters in Spain, France and Italy) and recover key commercial species in the region such as hake, mullet and shrimp. Disappointingly, several of the agreed measures are less ambitious than the original proposal published by the Commission early last year and significantly less ambitious than voluntarily measures already in place in many ports. In short, this multiannual plan (MAP) will not deliver the Common Fisheries Policy objective to restore and sustain Europe’s seas with healthy fish stocks by 2020.
The European Parliament has brought limited improvement to the proposed management of the Western Mediterranean, alleviating the fishing pressure on some fish stocks and marine ecosystems by reducing the number of hours fishers can spend at sea in the region. However, Parliament has limited any reduction in fishing time to just 10% when a minimum 20% reduction (i.e. one day per week) is required to secure the long-term sustainability of fish stocks and a stable revenue for fishers. It is particularly concerning that any reduction in fishers’ time at sea will only be decided every three years rather than reflecting factual and up-to-date fish stock assessments, putting the recovery of these important fisheries and the marine environment at risk.
Dr Samantha Burgess, Head of Marine Policy at WWF European Policy Office, said: “The science is very clear: we must substantially reduce fishing activities in the Mediterranean if we are to secure the availability of fish stocks in the long term. This vote does not heed this advice - instead, MEPs have missed yet another opportunity to address the real drivers of unsustainable fisheries and start restoring our critically overexploited Mediterranean Sea.”
Disappointingly, the Parliament has weakened the management plan’s original proposal to prevent trawling vessel activities in waters up to 100 metres in depth off EU coastlines during spawning periods when fish populations replenish their numbers. In line with the precautionary approach, WWF requested a year-round prohibition in these zones to permanently protect sensitive habitats and guarantee preferential access to small-scale fishing vessels in coastal waters.
However, Parliament’s decision to encourage participative management and implementation at local level through co-management committees is encouraging. Directly involving stakeholders in the implementation of the plan will radically improve compliance and provide a comprehensive understanding of fisheries’ characteristics at local level. WWF has pioneered the co-management approach in the Mediterranean and demonstrated its social, ecological and economic value, which is now being translated into regional legislation.
Today’s outcome follows November’s disastrous vote by the European Parliament on fisheries management in the Adriatic Sea, an important region of the Mediterranean which is now governed by several different and contradictory legal frameworks, further postponing fisheries sustainability in those waters.
“For the first time in an ocean regulation of this type, MEPs won’t even have the opportunity to improve today’s position in a plenary vote,” concluded Dr Samantha Burgess. “In their plenary meeting next week, Parliament must stop this undemocratic move and give the final voice to the chamber representing all EU citizens.”