While showing no inclination to reform the CFP and giving a free pass to other industries that affect the health of the oceans, the European Commission is expected shortly to unveil plans that will shut down large parts of Europe’s fishing industry.
According to the European Bottom Fishing Alliance (EBFA), the outcome is likely to be the loss of many millions in earnings, thousands of households affected, seafood going to waste – and even larger imports to the European Union of seafood from third countries to plug the gap.
EBFA has learned that the Commission is about to propose an Action Plan to ban bottom mobile gears in 30% of European seas.
This is taking place against a backdrop of the Commission having been presented with solid evidence that demonstrates that protecting European waters is best achieved while ensuring a future for fishermen and guarantees of food security.
‘The Commissioner seems to have forgotten his mandate to maintain the profitability of the fleet and to maximise food production in the EU, as clearly stated in the CFP and founding treaties of the EU,’ pointed out EBFA chairman Iván López van der Veen, commenting that foregoing its duty of achieving a balance between an indispensable healthy food production and the protection of the environment, the Commission has chosen instead to follow the campaigns fabricated by the environmental NGOs and to put a conclusion before discussion and reason.
The Action Plan is part of the EU Biodiversity Strategy imposing the objective of protecting 30% of the Union waters by 2030, including a 10% under strict protection. A significant part of the package is phasing out active bottom fishing gears in all existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030, by default and without regard to the needs of each MPA.
‘This approach is in stark contrast with the scientific approach presented by the EBFA to Commission services on several occasions. The designation of MPAs may include many other conservation measures not linked to fishing, such as the protection of seabirds, mammals, or turtles,’ Iván López van der Veen said.
‘Why ban fully regulated activity that does not impact the habitat or species to be protected? Restrictions should come from scientific analysis of each MPA, including the particular conservation needs as well as the trade-offs of any restriction, such as food security.’
EBFA questions what constitutes a MPA, as this is not clear in the legal basis and the pursued level of protection under the future Action Plan.
Its position is that the prohibition by default of bottom mobile gears in MPAs as an objective that is clearly disproportionate, unjustified, not based on the best available science, and contrary to international commitments.
‘This simplified governance approach along the principle “no bottom contact in MPAs” throws overboard the need for scientific data and evidence which is fundamental for policy-making,’ he said.
‘Furthermore, the apparent intention of the Commission to authorise the vessels affected “to fish somewhere else” is also of concern, as it clearly would not compensate for the drop in production. It would instead create displacement issues such as tension at sea, increased fuel consumption, inaccessibility to target species, and undesired consequences in the management of the fisheries and areas concerned.’
DG MARE’s own figures indicate that 13,105 fishing vessels employing 40,500 fishermen currently operate in MPAs. In 2019, EU vessels landed 124,103 tonnes of fish from these areas.
The expectation is that a potential ban of bottom mobile gears in current MPAs (10%) would cause an overall economic impact of around €870 million per year. In terms of job losses in the fishing communities (including ancillary activities onshore), an extra 8700 households will be affected. These numbers would have to be multiplied at least by a factor of three as the total area covered by MPAs in EU waters will increase from 10% to 30% by 2030.
‘Together with other pieces of legislation such as the Nature Restoration Law, the Deep-Sea Access Regulation, the effect of offshore windfarms and Brexit, the Action Plan comes as another nail in the coffin of bottom fishing in Europe. We are also suspicious of the lack of equal assertive action by the Commission towards other actors – land pollution, oil, gas and offshore windfarms. In general, these are overlooked while the sector that actually depends on the health of the oceans is put aside. It is as if they wanted to eliminate uncomfortable witnesses,’ Iván López van der Veen said, commenting that 70% of the seafood consumed in Europe is imported.
‘The Action Plan would only increase the (sea)food security gap in favour of countries like Russia or Norway which will continue business as usual and, mildly put, are giving a hard time to the EU, It will also increase the pressure on the environment of developing countries and their food systems as more fish is redirected to our markets to fill the void left by a diminishing Union fleet.’