Marine environment: EU protection is wide but not deep – presentation of the special report Nr 26/2020 by European Court of Auditors

Mediterranean sea floor with sand, rocks and a lot fish in background. South Sardinia sea - Adobe Stock.

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On March 23rd 2021, the European Court of Auditors presented to the European Parliament its conclusions on the special report Nr 26/2020 “Marine environment: EU protection is wide but not deep”.

This report reflects that, despite of some progress has been made by European member states over the last decade in the protection of the marine environment, the results as of today are far away from the expected.

Presentation of the report by the Court of Auditors

At the beginning of the session, João Figueiredo, Member of the European Court of Auditors, explained the three main aspects analysed for the production of the report “Marine environment: EU protection is wide but not deep”: the policy framework, the use of funds and the progress done, to continue with the main conclusions reached.

On the one hand, among the conclusions at policy level, he stressed the difficulties found by member state to apply the EU policy framework and the insufficient use made of the existing legal provisions to coordinate environmental and fisheries policies.

On the other hand, Mr. Figuereido pointed that Marine Protected Areas currently offer little protection to halt marine biodiversity loss, the unsuccessful efforts made to meet the targets set in the Common Fisheries Policy for 2020 and the low amount of EU funds that are used for direct conservation measures, which is currently around the 6% of the total funds.

To end with, he stressed the differences found on the uneven progress made in the conservation of marine ecosystems in the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean sea, being the latter in a worse conservation scenario, where the fish stocks are overall fished twice over the calculate sustainable levels or its Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY).

After a brief presentation, the floor was given then to the Members of the European Parlament (MEPs) who, presented their perspectives on the matter.

Contributions from the Commission and perspectives from the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)

The first contribution came from the hand of the European Commission. Veronica Manfredi, Director for Quality of Life (Air, Water & Industrial Emissions) of the Directorate General for the Environment (DG ENV) reiterated the commitment to keep working on the protection of the marine environment and stressed that a lot has been achieved in previous years, allowing to improve our knowledge on marine resources. She noted that the Court of Auditors report has focused on fisheries but that further efforts to tackle negative impacts from invasive species, agriculture, pollution and other sources should be increased. As she spoke,

Only a very holistic approach will enable to tackle the problem – Veronica Manfredi, DG ENV.

This vision on the uneven distribution of efforts, the lack of an integrated approach and the tendency of the different EU Directorates to work independently, leading to a silos approach, was widely shared by other MEPs during the session.

In this line, MEP Pierre Karleskind, Chair of the Fisheries Committee, discussed about the existing question marks on pressures different from fisheries, such as pollution and climate change. As an example, he commented reduction of fishing fleat on the Atlantic cod in order to protect the stock and how this single measure did not ensure its recovery, as it depends on other factors such as climate change that were not properly addressed.

Likewise, MEP Catherine Chabaud, European Parliament Intergroup on Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas, supported the need of coordination between different departments and brought to the table the necessity of an integrated approach, giving references to Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the World Trade Organization and EU Trade Commissioner, for his use of the term hydrosphere to integrate land´s fresh water and ocean´s water in a single concept. She also made a call to the European Union to support this same approach and to consider oceans as a common good on which we are all individually and collectively responsible.

And to add to this matter, MEP Grace O´Sullivan, Committee on Fisheries, highlighted the existing separation between fisheries management and climate change. Furthermore, he stressed that fishing quotas are set above the MSY  and that there is not sufficient enforcement present to apply the legislation, calling the European Union to urgently act to establish an effective control system for fisheries.

Continuing on the fisheries perspective, MEP Aurelie Beigneux, Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, commented on the lack of opportunities that local and traditional fisheries have, as 99% of fishing resources are exploited by big commercial ships, and called the commission to take action to protect the former.

Regarding financial support, MEP Marian-Jean Marinescu, Committee on Budgetary Control, commented that EU funding supports marine protection through different instruments but none is specific for marine environment.

Additional comments on this regard were made by MEP Corina Crețu, Committee on Budgetary Control who pointed that the majority of funds concentrate on commercial fishing whereas other sectors are left aside.

Also on this matter, Mrs. Valérie Tankink, head of Unit in the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) of the European Commission, highlighted the current efforts being made by DG ENVI and DG MARE to coordinate their work, and the advances being done for programming the funds together with member states in the different sea basins.

Other important mentions that arose during the session were the ongoing review of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which will be open to public consultation soon, and the progress being made in the implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy 2030 to set nature restoration targets, both commented by Ms. Manfredi.

The EUROPARC perspective

The debate underlined same points that are very important for Marine Protected Areas, such as the need of tackling the marine environmental issues and biodiversity lost through  holistic approach, embracing land and sea as a whole. This holistic approach also must be reflected in a greater coherence between policy and actions and between different actors and authorities at all levels.

On the other hand, our success in achieving the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 targets on time, especially those referring to the expansion of the protected surface and effective management of MPAs, will rely on increasing the amount of dedicated human resources and funds to achieve the good control and effectiveness needed

In many cases, MPAs can be efficient even when certain fisheries and tourism are allowed within their boundaries. Reaching an effective management implies, among other factors, the implementation of an effective zoning scheme the implementation of enforcement measures and the establishment of partnership with business and local fishermen, being the later a critical point. For all of these actions, specific funds are needed.

Additional information

You can find other news about the report “Marine environment: EU protection is wide but not deep” or download the full report here.

The recording of the event is available here