The European Commission has unveiled today its proposal for an EU Biodiversity strategy calling for urgent action to protect nature in the EU and worldwide – but EU fishermen oppose the new strategy, seeing it as discriminatory, and undermining the viability of the sector by reducing its productivity and capacity to invest in improving social and environmental performance.
While the strategy is claimed to set up a full transformative plan towards an EU environmentally-friendly food production system that preserves and restores biodiversity, fishing industry body Europêche states that it further restricts the sustainable use of the oceans, subjecting fish products to additional taxation and making fisheries the target of discrediting campaigns.
Europêche agrees that the EU must be ambitious in setting high environmental standards but not at the cost of increasing imports and lowering EU food production.
‘Closing off parts of the ocean to fishing actually conflicts with fundamental Sustainable Development Goals such as increasing food security and reducing poverty – both of which require the use of the ocean,’ stated Europêche managing director Daniel Voces.
‘We are shocked to read that while fishing would be heavily restricted or closed in protected areas, offshore wind farms will be permitted and even prioritised. The Commission already tried in the past to convert the oceans into a mining extraction site and now wants to transform our seas into the new European energy engine.’
The European Commission strategy claims that nature is in crisis due to the overexploitation of resources, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species and that more species risk extinction than at any point in human history.
To remedy the situation, the EU governing body proposes to increase the marine protected area (MPA) coverage from 10% to 30%, including a 10% no-take zone for strict conservation purposes, maintain or reduce fishing mortality to or under maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels and increase offshore windfarms even in vulnerable areas, under the guise of a win-win solution.
‘Europêche regrets that the strategy does not appreciate at all the huge improvements in EU fish populations,’ Daniel Voces said.
‘According to the latest scientific figures, in the North East Atlantic there is 50% more fish at sea in only ten years and overfishing in the EU is at an all-time low. In addition, almost 100% of the landings from EU-regulated stocks in that area come from catches fished at the MSY levels. It also fails to recognise that fishing has the lowest carbon footprint if compared with other food production industries, since wild-caught seafood does not require being artificially fed, the use of water supply, antibiotics or pesticides.’
European seafood has a strong reputation for being safe, nutritious, of high quality and produced under a well-developed and effective fisheries management system, while EU vessels are subject to hundreds of European and national rules to ensure a responsible and sustainable activity.
‘Many more conservation measures for fishery resources, including by-catch, and for the protection of marine ecosystems have been adopted by the EU only last year. The sector is adamant that, at present, EU fisheries poses no threat for the long-term preservation of fishery resources,’ he said, pointing out that while for fishing there are strong binding targets, other maritime industries such as oil, gas, dredging, aquaculture or shipping that have a massive carbon footprint, displace animals, disrupt ecosystems and biodiversity are not even mentioned.
‘We see this as discriminatory treatment and window-dressing – since the Commission is trying to greenwash the image of the EU through fisheries restrictions,’ he said, commenting that the socio-economic consequences of the disproportionate targets are clearly missing since the strategy will consider impact assessments only as a second step.
‘This is putting the cart before the horse. In this line, it is crucial that other effective area‐based conservation measures are considered on an equal footing with MPAs and developed in close co-operation with fishermen given the tremendous socio-economic costs of these measures.’
Europêche argues that, when indicating the economic benefits of MPAs – largely related to tourism, ocean energy and recreation – the Commission fails to mention that the economic benefits generated by these sectors have a negative impact on biodiversity, fish stocks and ecosystems. Furthermore, the Commission heavily relies on tourism and recreation as the main sources of new jobs and growth, two sectors that are very much struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Despite the recovery of the stocks and biodiversity, mitigation of environmental impacts and lower greenhouse emissions, the Commission refuses to acknowledge these achievements and uses fishing as the easy scapegoat to launch their environmental campaign. We want a real strategy with proportionate, rational and achievable objectives where all industries are treated on an equal footing, not an ill-founded proposal based on stereotypes,’ said Europêche President Javier Garat.
‘Therefore, we call on the European Parliament and Member States to stop this derailing train and send the proposal back to the Commission for full revision, so as to include the full cost of the policy in terms of impacts by the new users of space, intensification of fishing in limited space, reduction of fishing pressure and food production, elimination of trawling without a viable alternative and impact on exporting the environmental debt of the EU to developing countries. If the strategy is not changed, the Commissioner will fail to live up to his promise not to single out any of the pillars of sustainability – social, economic and environmental – during his mandate,’ Javier Garat said.