Bottom trawling in marine protected areas… Towards the end of a “European aberration”?

“Mr Macron, are you really going to start your mandate with a climate-killing and anti-ecological vote? », challenges Claire Nouvian on Twitter. The founder of Bloom NGOwhich works for marine conservation, refers to next Tuesday’s vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, during which MEPs have “finally the opportunity to ban destructive fishing methods” in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) of the European Union.

This opportunity is the initiative report of the Portuguese Socialist MEP Isabel Carvalhais who created it. A set of proposals on fisheries and aquaculture to move towards a sustainable blue economy within the EU, with the hope that Parliament will vote on it and that the Commission will draw inspiration from it to draw up a bill.

Bottom trawling in the crosshairs

To tell the truth, it is not so much this text that attracts the attention of Claire Nouvian, but much more a proposed amendment that has managed to add Caroline RooseBelgian MEP from the Verts/ALE group. The text proposes to prohibit straightforwardly, in MPAs, bottom trawling. Be the worst fishing technique, denounced a coalition of NGOs in January. It uses a trawl – a conical-shaped net – connected by cables to the boat which drags it on the seabed. “Not only is this fishing non-selective [elle ne ramasse pas uniquement l’espèce visée], but by scraping the bottom, the trawl destroys the habitats of many species, points out Frédéric Le Manach, scientific director of Bloom. The harmful impact on biodiversity is obvious, but scientists are also beginning to study the consequences of these practices, by disturbing marine sediments, on the ability of the oceans to capture CO2. »

Frédéric Le Manach points to other problematic fishing techniques. “All those who come into direct contact with the seabed, including demersal seine, booming in Europe in recent years, he begins. But also the super-trawlers – around thirty boats in Europe 120-130 m long – which fish in the water column. If they do not touch the seabed, they take however astronomical quantities of fish, always in a non-selective way, leaving little more to eat for the species. »

Bloom would have liked to extend Tuesday’s vote to all of these techniques, “but banning trawling would already be a big step forward”, concedes Frédéric Le Manach. There is a lot to do: 86% of so-called “protected” European waters are intensely trawled, deplores Bloom. The NGO also refers to a study published in Science in December 2018, that trawling was 1.4 times more intense inside the so-called “protected” zone than outside in more than two thirds of the MPAs in northern Europe.

Marine areas of paper?

However, MPAs are increasingly presented as the main tool for biodiversity conservation. As part of the Conversion on Biological Diversity (CBD)the UN calls on the international community to adopt the goal of protecting 30% of land and seas by 2030. Of which 10% in strong protection. Objectives that the EU has made its own and on which several of its members, France in the lead, claim to be well advanced. Caroline Roose, however, calls for looking beyond the numbers. “Many of our areas only exist on paper. Only 1.8%, for example, have a management plan. “And less than 1% are strictly protected in the sense that intensive fishing techniques and extractive activities are prohibited there,” adds Anne Nouvian. It is nevertheless an imperative for an MPA worthy of the name, according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) . “In Europe, where the fishing lobbies are very powerful, the concept of MPAs has been completely emptied of meaning, from the very first creations twenty years ago,” she continues. Even the European Court of Auditors deplores the failure in a November 2020 report, »

“It’s time for the hypocrisy to stop,” Bloom said. And the vote could be a fundamental step according to Claire Nouvian “Even if it is only an initiative report, which only consists of asking the Commission to legislate on a subject”, specifies she. Clearly, even voted in Strasbourg, Brussels is not required to respond to it, even less by a bill. “On the other hand, by voting for Caroline Roose’s amendment, MEPs would send a strong political message,” Bloom said. “The commission is soon to present his proposal for a law on the restoration of nature, slips Frédéric Le Manach. It could very well include a ban on bottom trawling in MPAs. It is the perfect legislative vehicle in any case. »

A competing amendment

Still, Caroline Roose’s amendment is not the only one proposed on Tuesday on the subject. FrenchPierre KarleskindMEP for Renew Europe, close to Emmanuel Macron and President of the Fisheries Commission in the European Parliament, filed another Wednesday, cosigned by Stephane Sejourne, another close friend of the president. The text is not limited to bottom trawling but to “harmful fishing techniques”. On the other hand, he proposes to ban them “in strictly protected MPAs, according to the best available scientific data”. “So on less than 1% of the current perimeter of the areas, and while these practices are already prohibited there”, fulminates Claire Nouvian. “But no European text imposes it formally”, defends Pierre Karleskind. He thus intends to remove this ambiguity, “at the very moment when the EU must accelerate to reach the objective of 10% of MPAs under strong protection by 2030.” And on the other percentages? “You have to do it on a case-by-case basis,” he said. It is up to all managers of marine areas to identify the waters where the most harmful practices must be prohibited. This work is already underway. In the end, Pierre Karleskind calls his amendment “more pragmatic”. Claire Nouvian, she speaks of a new ecological sham of the “Walkers” in the European Parliament, which is a stain at the very beginning of the five-year term.

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