European ranking: France has the most trawled marine “protected” area

By demonstrating that the most destructive fishing methods, such as bottom trawling, are still used on a daily basis in Europe’s supposedly protected marine areas, BLOOM has published a major scientific study that highlights just how far the European Union still has to go to achieve its goals of protecting and restoring marine ecosystems.

We have analyzed the fishing time of all trawlers over 15 meters operating in the so-called “protected” European marine areas (MPAs) in the European Union in 2023, and show that granting “protected” status to certain marine areas has no influence on the extent of trawling. In the study, we created a map for each country summarizing trawling in national MPAs, as well as the top 30 most trawled MPAs (see reportappendices).



Experts from the IPCC and IPBES intergovernmental panels on climate change and biodiversity have stressed the importance of developing a coherent network of MPAs to provide real protection for the climate, biodiversity and small-scale fishing, which has been a collateral victim of industrial fishing for decades [1]. In 2020, the European Union (EU) adopted its Biodiversity Strategy, in which it set itself the target of achieving 30% MPAs by 2030. The recommendations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) dictate that industrial fishing should be excluded from all MPAs, while the European framework calls for one third of the areas declared “protected” to be granted “strict protection” status, i.e. with no (not even artisanal) fishing allowed. [2]

In France, President Emmanuel Macron boasts that he has already exceeded this target. Yet, beyond all the rhetoric, the reality is bleak: BLOOM reveals here that so-called “protected” marine areas have little or no influence on EU-wide trawling effort, despite being considered one of the most destructive fishing techniques. Worse still, trawling intensity, i.e. the number of hours trawled per square kilometer, was 1.4 times higher in MPAs than outside them in 2023, and mega-trawlers over 80 meters in length all operate in European MPAs.


Our study reveals that in 2023, trawling was rife in over 60% of Europe’s MPAs. In total, by 2023, the EU will have trawled almost 6.2 million hours in its waters, including around 1.7 million hours within its MPAs. This means that around a quarter (26.7%) of European trawl fishing effort takes place inside MPAs. This fishing effort is not evenly distributed: three countries alone – Spain, France and Italy – account for more than two-thirds of trawling effort within MPAs. The most trawled MPA in Europe belongs in French waters: the Bay of Biscay slope, which alone accounted for over 200,000 hours of trawling in 2023.


Trawling in MPAs is also practiced by pelagic mega-trawlers, gigantic vessels that can measure up to 145 meters in length, catching 400 tons of fish a day – as much as 1,000 artisanal fishing vessels catch in a single day [4]. Of the vessels over 80 meters considered in this analysis, all fished at least once in a European MPA in 2023. The Scombrus, for example, an 80-meter-long French mega-trawler, spent more than a third of its fishing effort inside MPAs. The Joseph Roty II, a 90-meter-long mega-chalutier, spent 906 hours fishing in MPAs, i.e. a quarter of its time (calculated as fishing effort). Mega-trawlers are particularly fond of French MPAs, such as the Bay of Bscay slope MPA, which alone accounts for over 1,000 hours of fishing by these vessels. Thus, areas designated for the protection of biodiversity do not protect marine ecosystems and artisanal fishing from the largest industrial fishing vessels, the impact of which on ecosystems, the climate and artisanal fishers continues to be catastrophic [5].

This report once again highlights the gigantic gap between the protection figures declared by European governments and reality. Under these conditions, MPAs cannot fulfill their vital role of protecting and restoring marine life, safeguarding artisanal fisheries and conserving ocean carbon sinks. In the run-up to the UN World Ocean Summit 2025 (UNOC), Europe has the opportunity to clarify what does and does not constitute a Marine Protected Area by adopting the standards set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): namely that all MPAs must, by definition, exclude industrial fishing. Protected areas that do not meet these standards should not be included in countries’ official protection figures.

→ This study will be presented on 26 March, at an exclusive evening at the French National Assembly to launch a major citizen coalition to protect the Ocean, initiated by BLOOM.


[1] Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate; IPBES, ‘Summary for Policymakers of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’.

[2] EU biodiversity strategy for 2030.

[3] Steadman et al, ‘New Perspectives on an Old Fishing Practice’; Dureuil et al, ‘Elevated Trawling inside Protected Areas Undermines Conservation Outcomes in a Global Fishing Hot Spot’; Perry et al, ‘Extensive Use of Habitat-Damaging Fishing Gears Inside Habitat-Pro- tecting Marine Protected Areas’.

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