Auditors raise ‘red flag’ over EU efforts to protect seas

Fishing boat off the coast of Spain [Han van Hoof / Flickr]

Efforts to protect the European Union seas are failing to slow biodiversity loss or prevent overfishing, with the Mediterranean under particular threat, a report by auditors said on Thursday (26 November).

European Union countries have given protected status, which can include restrictions on fishing, oil and gas exploration or shipping, to some 11% of their sea area.

However, only 1% are strictly safeguarded, and many are failing to protect vulnerable species from threats such as illegal trawling, the European Court of Auditors said.

“EU action has so far been unable to restore European seas to good environmental status, nor fishing to sustainable levels,” said João Figueiredo from the European Court of Auditors.

“Our audit clearly raises the red flag over the EU’s sea protection,” he added.

The report covered seas off Spain, France, Italy and Portugal and said the EU needed to consider protecting more Mediterranean areas from fishing, which can damage the sea floor and cause a bycatch of sharks, seabirds and turtles.

Fishing rates in the Mediterranean are more than double sustainable levels, the audit found, while in the Atlantic EU rules have improved fish stocks.

Birds, sharks and rays all have a negative biodiversity status in the Mediterranean.

Europe’s seas support roughly 6 million jobs and industries including offshore energy, fishing and tourism.

“There is room for improvement,” a European Commission spokeswoman said, adding that the Commission will work with member state to implement protections.

The EU and national governments share responsibility for environmental policies.

The 27-member bloc has pledged to protect 30% of its land and seas by 2030, a goal set to be discussed at a summit in China next year, where nearly 200 countries will negotiate a treaty on protecting nature.

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