A review of Europe’s marine protection

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The European Court of Auditors produced an assessment of Marine Protected Areas. Its conclusion? There is work to be done.

For many, the end of the year is the time to stop, look back and assess how things are going. In that sense, the European Union is just like the rest of us, as the European Court of Auditors has published a report assessing the EU protection of the marine environment: “Marine environment: EU protection is wide but not deep”. Sadly, the assessment proves that the protection of the marine environment is far from ideal.

The scope of this report compiles evidence from Spain, France, Italy and Portugal between 2008 and the present year. The results highlight several factors that cause Member States to be far away from reaching the “good environmental condition” target stated in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, one of Europe´s main tool for the protection of the seas.

Among these factors, the report stresses that although more than 3000 MPAs exist in Europe, their protection do not cover a representative amount Europe´s marine diversity. Furthermore, less than the 1% of them can be considered as marine reserves with full protection in which effective fishing bans exist and other pressures are properly regulated.

The provisions to coordinate fisheries policy with environmental policy has not worked as intended, and the species and habitats protected by birds and habitats directives were based on outdated threat assessments.

Additionally, the targets set in the Common Fisheries Policy for 2020 have not been met and fisheries keep being a main threat for marine environment restoration. Whereas measurable progress has been made in the Atlantic region, the Mediterranean region keeps being over fished at twice the rate of sustainable levels. The difference between the regions seems to be led by the different management systems used in both regions, based on catch limitations in the Atlantic and fishing time limitations in the Mediterranean. Furthermore, the lack of integration of the existing fishing regulations, a EU competence, and the tools for the protection of the marine environment, competence of the Member States, present an obstacle for an efficient protection

In addition, the report has proven that from the whole amount of economic resources EU funds channeled to the consulted Member States through the European Maritime and Fisheries Funds, only 6% was used on direct conservation measures.

However, despite the discouraging news, the report identifies different areas of action that should be prioritized and recommendations to improve the conservation status of our seas. These recommendations seek to improve the protection measures in the Mediterranean region, the identification of regulatory and administrative changes to better protect sensitive species and habitats and to increase the potential of EU funding.