For truly protected marine protected areas

Paris, 22 April 2022

As France prepares to vote for the second round of the presidential election, another vote is being prepared in the European Parliament. This European vote will have a major influence on the European Union’s ecological ambition to preserve its carbon sinks and biodiversity. During the first week of May in Strasbourg, MEPs will have the opportunity to ensure that so-called Marine ‘Protected’ Areas are truly protected by banning destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling from these waters.

The own-initiative report on the blue economy by the Portuguese Socialist MEP Isabel Carvalhais [1] is a unique chance to give meaning to words so that “Marine Protected Areas” do not mean “Marine Exploited Areas”. The vote on an own-initiative report does not create a binding norm, but it is a necessary first step to obtain a ban on destructive activities in protected areas.

Words at odds with reality

The reality of so-called “protected” marine areas is that the vast majority of them are not protected at all. They in fact allow the extraction of resources, or fishing with towed gears that scrape the seabed, such as bottom trawling or demersal seining.

-> Today, 86% of “protected” European waters are intensively trawled. A scientific study published in the journal “Science” even showed that in more than two thirds of the marine protected areas (MPAs) in Northern Europe, trawling was 1.4 times more intense inside the so-called “protected” area than outside [2].

-> The European Commission warned that less than 1% of marine areas are strictly protected in the European Union [3].

->The European Court of Auditors signaled in 2020 that the way the EU Marine Protected Areas network has been implemented over the last 20 years fails to provide real protection for the marine environment.

A crucial vote for the climate and biodiversity

Protecting the ocean from high-impact activities such as bottom trawling is an effective way to combat climate change. Biodiversity experts gathered in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform IPBES warns that: “globally, disturbance of previously undisturbed marine sediment carbon through trawling was estimated to release the equivalent of 15 to 20% of atmospheric CO2 absorbed annually by the ocean. “[4]

The ocean is an essential ally in the fight we must lead against climate change.

MPAs, when effectively protected, are a powerful tool for restoring marine ecosystems and preserving biodiversity. Fish biomass in marine reserves are on average 670% higher than in the surrounding unprotected waters. [5]

However, for the ocean to provide such essential ecosystem services, it needs to be healthy. How can the ocean thrive if it is under the constant pressure exerted by industrial fishing activities ?

As the latest IPCC report calls on policy makers to take immediate and structural action to limit global warming to 1.5°C, this vote will mark the MEP’s level of determination to put their money where their mouth is.


[1] Own-initiative report 2021/2188(INI) by the Portuguese Socialist MEP Isabel Carvalhais : “Toward a sustainable blue economy in the EU: the role of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors ». [2] Perry, Allison L., et al. “Extensive Use of Habitat-Damaging Fishing Gears Inside Habitat-Protecting Marine Protected Areas.” Frontiers in Marine Science 9 (2022): 811926.
[3] Communication from the European Commission, 20 mai 2020. “COM(2020) 380 final. EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. Bringing nature back into our lives”.
Sala and Giakoumi (2017) No-take marine reserves are the most effective protected areas in the ocean. Available at:

Share :