Action plan to protect marine ecosystems for sustainable fisheries
1 June 2023
On 21 February 2023, the European Commission published a 'fisheries and oceans' package, including an action plan for reconciling marine protection and fisheries. With this plan, the Commission is hoping to achieve more consistent implementation of EU environmental and fisheries policies. The main aim is to make fishing practices more sustainable by improving gear selectivity and reducing impacts on sensitive species (such as dolphins) and the seabed. On seabeds, the Commission is calling for a ban on mobile bottom fishing in marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2030. To address the negative socio-economic impacts of this, it is proposing measures to ensure a 'just transition' (by making better use of EU funding instruments, in particular for innovation – for instance, to develop new techniques – and for diversification of economic activities). The Commission presented the action plan to the European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries (PECH) on 1 March 2023 and the EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries provided additional clarifications at the PECH meeting on 26 April 2023. Key to the debate is the legal framework for the proposed actions. Environmental policy is a shared competence of the Member States and the Union, and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) introduced an integrated approach to the marine ecosystem. To achieve the MSFD objectives, Member States need to adopt national measures, such as better protection and conservation of seabed habitats and reduction of bycatch from fisheries. According to the Commission, the proposed measures are intended to implement existing environmental legislation. They are non-binding recommendations for national plans – roadmaps to be drawn up by Member States – to explore ways to reduce the environmental impact of fishing. When it comes to the common fisheries policy, regionalisation would be the appropriate instrument. This means taking regional differences and different levels of government into account when making decisions. The PECH committee is currently preparing an own-initiative report on the action plan.