European Union fishing sector representative Europêche and the European Association of Fish Producers Organisations (EAPO) have voiced their concerns at the decision taken by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to recommend closing off 30 percent of all marine areas to fishing activities by 2030.
In a joint statement, the two fishing bodies stressed that the fishing sector would be one of the most affected sectors by these recommendations, which don't take into account other impacts such as pollution and marine mining industries, including oil and gas.
Moreover, IUCN’s decision is not based on any broad consensus of the scientific community and disregards the “unpleasant fact” that a large proportion of MPAs already established are “paper parks” with zero efficiency in meeting their objectives, they said.
According to Europêche and EAPO, some scientists present at the recent IUCN World Conservation Congress highlighted that there was little proof that the 30 percent closure would bring about any major benefit to biodiversity and “objected very strongly” to the proposal since it went against efforts made by marine protected area (MPA) proponents during the last decade to involve coastal communities in decision-making.
They also believe that any proposal which greatly impacts any economic sector should be accompanied by a thorough impact assessment from an environmental, social, economic and food security perspective, which was not the case in this decision.
“This would be the only tool which would highlight the consequences of the problems and allow states to decide whether to take action based on accurate, objective, comprehensive and non-discriminatory information,” said the statement.
It also suggested that closing off parts of the ocean from extractive use would conflict with other the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as increasing food security and reducing poverty; both of which require the use of the ocean. The group added that closing 30 percent of all coastal areas would be disastrous in the developing world, where coastal communities have no social safety nets and no unemployment schemes.
"No-take zones (marine reserves) have become, in the eyes of many scientists, NGOs and lay-people, a solution for the overexploitation of fish populations. However, before we close off any area to extractive activities such as fishing we must first ask ourselves what are we protecting and why,” said Javier Garat, president of Europêche.
Garat said MPAs are a tool, not an objective so in order for these closures to be successful, their existence has to be justified. As such, they must be science-based, well monitored, effective and not simply established to reach a quota.
“As we know, fish populations do not respect boundaries and closing off an area to fishing will only displace vessels to neighboring areas with unintended consequences on management. Many MPAs actually fail because their planning is rarely integrated as part of broader marine spatial planning and ocean zoning efforts, creating a dangerous illusion of protection," he said.
Pim Visser, president of EAPO added, “This is a typical broad brush approach which will lead to unworkable situations in coastal areas and estuaries. Imagine the 30 percent criterion for instance being applied to the Irish Sea, North Sea and the Baltic; areas also destined to produce large amounts of renewable energy. A 30 percent closure will erase all fishing activities in these areas and negatively affect fishermen, their families and their communities.”
IUCN meets every four years at the IUCN World Conservation Congress to recommend a set of environmental and conservation priorities for future years. During this latest Congress held in Hawaii, 1 to 10 September 2016, the IUCN adopted a series of non-binding commitments to recommend to governments and other relevant international bodies.
Meanwhile, the environmental NGOs Oceana, Seas At Risk, and WWF have urged the European Commission (EC) to be rigorous in its assessment of E.U. member states’ performance on protecting their oceans, and on fulfillment of their obligations to protect areas that are home to Europe’s most threatened marine life. Their call comes ahead of the E.U. meeting to identify gaps in the Natura 2000 network of MPAs in Atlantic, Macaronesian, and Mediterranean waters, the first such meeting in six years.
Established 24 years ago by the E.U. Nature Directives, the Natura 2000 network is the primary tool for species and habitat protection across Europe. Currently, Natura 2000 MPAs cover only 4 percent of EU marine waters, with just 1.7 percent of offshore waters designated as Natura 2000 sites.
“The completion of the marine Natura 2000 network is long overdue, to ensure biodiversity is protected for future generations and threatened species and habitats can recover from increasing pressures such as overfishing and climate change. In the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, countries have protected a mere 2 percent of their offshore areas. Far worse is the situation in the Mediterranean, where 99.9 percent of offshore waters remain unprotected,” said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director for Oceana in Europe.
The meeting will specifically focus on member states that are not sufficiently protecting threatened species, including bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead turtles, and threatened habitats, such as reefs and sandbanks.