New EU Marine Action Plan set up for failure if member states are not held accountable

  • 21.02.2023.

Today, the EU Commission finally published its long-awaited Action Plan to address the impact fisheries have on marine ecosystems. The Action Plan, which was originally set to be published in 2021 but was delayed due to pressure from the fishing lobby, was going to be a historic opportunity to transform European fisheries to ensure a sustainable and viable future for nature and people. While the Action Plan is part of the EU Biodiversity strategy for 2030, in its current state it fails to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems.

A perfect example is the issue of bycatch: the incidental catch of species such as seabirds in fishing gear. Every year, thousands of dolphins, sea turtles and seabirds in Europe die as bycatch. However, and while solutions to avoid bycatch are largely available, European countries have largely failed in their obligations to address this and to date, the Commission has not taken legal action to address this pressing issue. Much of the Action Plan simply reiterates the European countries’ obligations under existing EU legislation. But the inefficiency of the 2012 Action Plan has shown that without proper enforcement from the Commission, no actions are taken nationally.

Member States have until mid-2023 to establish national roadmaps to implement the Action Plan. For this to not become another ‘inaction plan’, we urge Member States to commit to a rapid and efficient implementation, and the Commission to release a public science-based assessment of these roadmaps, to require Member States to address any weaknesses identified, and to closely monitor and properly enforce their timely implementation.

There is no reason for the Commission to wait any longer to take legal action against Member States that are already breaching the law, and immediately use all the powers at its disposal to enforce existing environmental legislation. This is essential to meet international biodiversity and climate commitments.

Hrvoje Čeprnja, Expert Associate for fisheries, Association Biom:

“This new Action Plan for solving the problem of the impact of fisheries on marine ecosystems outlines the vision and necessary actions by which the European Commission tries to connect the EU policy on the marine environment with the fisheries policy. Member countries are encouraged to adopt national measures and action plans to protect and restore marine ecosystems and promote sustainable fishery.

This Plan provides an opportunity for better cooperation between the fisheries sector and the nature protection sector, and we call on the relevant ministries to show greater ambition and joint responsibility for marine conservation, but also a clear political commitment of all stakeholders and institutions for the effective implementation of legislation from the fisheries and nature protection sectors.”

Anouk Puymartin, EU Marine Policy Officer, BirdLife Europe:

“The set of initiatives launched today by the European Commission will not succeed in ensuring a healthy sea for our future. A structural transformation of European fisheries to respect nature at sea and benefit the people who depend on it, is crucial for our ocean to have a fighting chance to survive and play its role of climate regulator. Many marine species are already on the brink of extinction. Time is not on our side and this new Action Plan will not deliver if not followed by legal action to hold Member States accountable.”