Blue Economy: Parliament calls for the end of destructive fishing practices

Marta Pacheco

Belgium, (Brussels Morning) The European Parliament voted to end destructive fishing practices in so-called marine “protected” areas (MPAs) and for fostering fishing partnerships with third countries. 

The vote was carried out yesterday during a plenary session in Strasbourg with 494 votes in favour, 66 against, and 66 abstentions, under the new EU’s sustainable blue economy strategy. 

“We need more ideas promoting investment and sustainable solutions in the fisheries sector through funding from the new European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund as well as other programs. Investment based on science needs to be made to safeguard protected areas and ensure the sector’s sustainability,” said the MEP in charge of the adopted report, Isabel Carvalhais (S&D).

Sustainable fishing

Parliament urged the European Commission and EU countries to boost investment possibilities for modern and sustainable fishing and aquaculture practices. MEPs underlined the urgent need to invest in new vessels and port infrastructure as well as in diversifying the economies of coastal, remote and overseas communities. 

“The Commission believes that new technologies, innovation, and digitalisation will boost the green transition of the blue economy, also for those sectors considered established, such as fisheries and aquaculture,” said Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski during the parliamentary debate, noting that “significant investment” will be necessary for the EU’s coastal and outermost regions.

Parliament listed numerous possible sources of EU investment, such as the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund or the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism.

Bottom trawling

“This is a strong political signal to the Commission that marine protected areas must be truly protected by banning bottom trawling and all destructive industrial activities,” stated the NGO Seas at Risk in a press statement.

Although a specific reference to bottom trawling was removed, the NGO pointed out, that MEPs also called on the EU to limit the use of detrimental fishing techniques – which includes bottom trawling – outside MPAs.

In response of the call to ban bottom trawling in MAPs, Wojciechowski said: “It is now the most damaging activity in the seabed. We are currently looking into this question to protect marine ecosystems.”

The EU executive is expected to table an Action Plan to address this before the summer.

Environmental impact

Addressing the environmental impact, MEPs said that investments in fisheries must follow the Green Deal, promote sustainable aquaculture models, and also support fishermen impacted by the green transition. 

They mentioned measures such as more algae production to capture carbon dioxide, the collection of marine litter, and increased use of less damaging fishing techniques as well as the ban on bottom trawling in parts of MPAs, that could reverse the loss of biodiversity and could contribute to the conservation of marine ecosystems.

Fishing partnerships

MEPs further highlighted the importance of establishing bilateral partnerships with third countries on sustainable fishing and on the fight against illegal fishing.

In order to generate competitiveness among the EU’s fishing fleets, MEPs defend that fishermen should follow the highest environmental, economic and social sustainability criteria to establish a level playing field with products imported from third countries.

However, there are many interests at stake that should not be regarded separately. “There are competing interests out there in our oceans across the globe. When you look at the context of huge industrial factory ships scooping up entire areas of the sea coupled now with concerns of local coastal communities around the issue of offshore wind,” said MEP Billy Kelleher (Renew Europe), noting that this could impact the ability of fishing in shallow waters.

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Marta Pacheco is the Brussels Morning European Commission Editor. She studied Political Science and Media & Journalism at the Catholic University of Portugal (UCP). A former Blue Book trainee of the European Commission, Marta has a keen interest in global affairs and experience in EU and diplomatic affairs reporting.