One law for nature, two amendments for the ocean and fishers

At the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in a plenary vote scheduled for 12 July, all 705 MEPs will vote on the ‘Nature Restoration Law’, a text of key importance for the future of our climate, ecosystems, health, and food sovereignty.

Ahead of the vote, two crucial amendments were tabled for the immediate benefit of the ocean and fishers.

The proposed measures would effectively address two of the EU’s major problems: the destruction of marine ecosystems, and the worrying hemorrhaging of jobs in its fishing industry.

Creating genuine ‘marine protected areas’ in Europe

To date, so-called ‘protected’ marine areas are not protected at all. In Europe, 86% of these supposedly marine ‘protected’ areas are subject to trawling. On average, trawling in these areas is 1.4 times more intense than outside. This failure is also evident in France, where industrial fisheries operate almost half of their time in so-called marine ‘protected’ areas.

At a time when the European Environment Agency (EEA) has reported a sharp loss of biodiversity in over 80% of European seas, the first amendment would make it possible to create, at last, genuine marine protected areas in Europe, by banning high-impact fishing methods such as bottom trawling, which destroys marine habitats, jeopardizes the ocean’s carbon storage capacity, and generates 93% of discards in European fisheries.

Echoing the recommendations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Biodiversity (IPCC and IPBES), this measure is a direct response to the more than 1,000 scientists who have called on the European Parliament to support the scientific evidence that the most effective way to restore the ocean is to protect it.

An unprecedented poll by the IPSOS institute, published on Monday 3 July, revealed that in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, 79% of citizens are in favor of protecting 30% of European waters by banning destructive fishing techniques. Artisanal fishers are also in favor, but are under pressure from industry to keep quiet.

The choice that parliamentarians will have to make is clear: choosing to protect the ocean means enabling its restoration and the regeneration of fish and marine ecosystems, and safeguarding the profession that depends on this resource. But regenerating the resource in order to distribute it to a handful of industrials is unjust and irrational. Hence the immediate need for social justice with the second amendment.

Protecting ecosystems and coastal fishers

Today, huge industrial vessels are allowed to devastate Europe’s coastal waters, destroying marine ecosystems at the same time as they destroy Europe’s coastal fishers through unfair competition.

Coastal waters are essential nurseries and habitats for the juveniles of many species. Preserving the physical and biological integrity of these areas is therefore crucial to maintaining a wide diversity of fish species and fishery resources, on which coastal fishers are directly dependent.

In Europe, inshore fishing plays a major role in the coastal economy: vessels under 24 meters represent 97% of the European fleet and 82% of employment, but land only 28% of total catches.

In France, vessels under 24 meters represent 96% of the fishing fleet, and 83% of jobs, for half of all catches. Vessels under 12 meters, which account for 84% of the fleet and 60% of French fishers, land 23% of catches.

Other EU countries have an even more unequal structure. In Germany, for example, vessels under 24 meters account for 97% of the fishing fleet and employ 76% of German fishers, landing 9% of catches.

Protecting the 12-nautical-mile coastal strip from vessels over 25 meters, designed to operate offshore, is therefore a major issue of social justice. Yet to date, there are no legal provisions to protect Europe’s coastal fishers from the 3% of industrial fishing vessels over 25 meters in length, which over-exploit coastal waters and leave a desert in their wake, with no concern for other fishers. In France, the Normandy’s Regional Fisheries Committee (Comité Régional des Pêches de Normandie) is arguing, among other things, for a 25-meter limit for fishing vessels in the Channel.

The European Parliament made no mistake, adopting a resolution in January 2023 stressing that “the viability of small-scale fisheries critically depends on secure access to resources and fishing areas” and calling for “a differentiated approach to the management of small-scale fisheries that includes priority access to inshore fishing areas“.

This second amendment, which simultaneously addresses social and environmental issues, would put words into action, and ensure that the protection and restoration measures undertaken in the coastal zone directly and exclusively benefit inshore fishing.

→ To go further : read our advocacy document for an ambitious Nature Restoration Law ←

The future of fisheries and ecosystems in the hands of the European Parliament

If the measures proposed by Younous Omarjee, supported by MEPs from the RENEW, EPP, S&D, Greens, and The Left groups, were to be adopted at the same time as the “Nature Restoration Law” in plenary on 12 July, two major issues linked to the restoration of marine ecosystems and the protection of coastal fisheries would be effectively resolved.

During the votes in the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Environment Commissions, unprecedented anti-environmental alliances failed to amend the European Commission’s proposal.

However, at a time when the average global surface temperature this week broke all-time records, auguring the worst, when the extent of the Antarctic ice pack is experiencing an unprecedented anomaly, and when the Atlantic Ocean is experiencing an unprecedented marine heatwave, the outcome of this vote on nature restoration and these key amendments is more than uncertain.

Our future depends on what the European Parliament decides today.

It’s up to the 705 members of the European Parliament, and in particular the members of the RENEW group, who have the power to make and break majorities, to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis and the collapse of biodiversity that are hitting us so hard, and to protect 97% of the fleet and 83% of French fishers, on board vessels of less than 25 meters, from the insane competition that is taking place due to a lack of political will.


Projection on the European Parliament © Joanie Lemercier – Photo © Julien Bauzin

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