Leading civil society organisations have today [16 April] launched a campaign calling on the EU to take tougher action against EU countries that still allow bottom trawling in their Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), after a new report reveals that the destructive fishing practice is still taking place in 90% of offshore EU MPAs.

The report, co-authored by Marine Conservation Society, Seas At Risk and Oceana, shows that in the seven countries analysed, 4.4 million hours of apparent bottom trawling was allowed in MPAs between 2015-2023 – equivalent to more than 500 years’ worth of trawling. Using data compiled by Global Fishing Watch, the breadth and hours of fishing activity were calculated in Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. The Netherlands has the highest number of bottom towed fishing hours recorded within the MPA sites studied, followed by Germany, Denmark, and Spain. This report coincides with the release of landmark scientific advice by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which shows that closing 30% of EU North Sea, Celtic Sea and Baltic Sea waters to bottom fishing would result in reductions of landing values of less than 0.1% – 6.6% per year, with considerable benefits for the marine ecosystems that underpin commercially exploited fish species.

Seas At Risk and Oceana have joined forces with Only One, a campaigning organisation for the ocean sector, to launch an EU-wide initiative and publish an interactive map lifting the lid on what is happening in EU MPAs, and to urge the European Commission to ban destructive fishing such as bottom trawling in all of these areas. Currently, the EU Marine Action Plan asks countries to set out national roadmaps to ban bottom trawling in MPAs, starting with those with ecologically important seabed features by the end of 2024, and across all MPAs by 2030. The first deadline to submit national roadmaps passed on 31 March, but so far only a few EU countries have complied, and it is hard to know if any of the submitted roadmaps have been made public as requested by the European Commission.

Tatiana Nuño, Senior Marine Policy Officer at Seas At Risk, said:

Our campaign is putting a stop to ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to what EU governments are allowing in so-called protected waters. While EU politicians waste precious time with pre-election populist posturing, the biodiversity and climate crises rage on unabated. The elections must mark a fresh start for EU leaders to actually protect Europe’s seas, which would benefit not just marine biodiversity but also the sustainability of fishers and the communities that depend on this sector. It’s time to stop bulldozing the seabed, and to ban bottom trawling in EU MPAs once and for all.”

Nicolas Fournier, Campaign Director for Marine Protection at Oceana in Europe, said:

Today’s analysis reveals a decade-long silent tragedy hitting EU seas and fishers – most countries are ignoring EU nature laws, with impunity, by allowing the most destructive fishing practices in the most sensitive and protected waters. The EU Marine Action Plan offered a path to put an end to this situation, but by defending industrial fishing interests, countries are upholding the status quo. If it is to meet its marine biodiversity targets by 2030, the next European Commission has no other option but to enforce a ban on bottom trawling in EU MPAs.”

Maissa Rababy, Head of Campaigns for Only One, said:

“It’s long past time for coastal fishers and their allies across the continent to have their voices truly heard in Brussels and with national governments. Stay tuned as these supporters raise their voices to those in power – again and again, at key moments – until bottom trawling is banned in EU MPAs.”

Bottom trawling is a fishing method that involves one or more boats pulling heavy fishing nets along the ocean floor in an effort to catch fish and other marine species like shrimp. It is one of the most destructive fishing methods, resulting in ecosystem loss, the release of carbon stored in the seabed, and high levels of bycatch and fish discards (92% of all EU fish discards come from bottom trawled catches). This negatively impacts both the sustainability of fish populations and the fishing industry itself, especially small-scale and low-impact fishers that account for 80% of the active European fleet and 50% of jobs in the sector.


Note to editors:

  • Seas At Risk and Oceana co-lead ‘From paper parks to effective protection’, a project bringing together NGOs from across the EU to fight for marine areas that are protected in practice, not just on paper. The project is conducted in partnership with national organisations Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND), the Danish Society for Nature Conservation (Danmarks Naturfredningsforening), the Irish Wildlife Trust, the North Sea Foundation (Stichting De Noordzee), Sciaena, and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen), and advisory partners ClientEarth and Marine Conservation Society.
  • The EU-wide campaign launched today is run collaboratively by Seas At Risk, Oceana and Only One:
    • Seas At Risk is a Brussels-based NGO campaigning for the protection and restoration of the marine environment. Together with its 30+ members from all over Europe, it works to make sure that life in our seas and oceans is abundant, diverse, climate-resilient, and not threatened by human activities.
    • Oceana is the largest international advocacy organisation focused entirely on “ocean conservation”. Since its founding in 2001, Oceana seeks to make our oceans more biodiverse and abundant by winning policy victories in the countries that govern much of the world’s marine life. Oceana in Europe has offices in Madrid, Brussels, and Copenhagen.
    • Only One’s primary mission is to collaborate with partners in executing impactful public campaigns. It leverages its communication expertise to build a global movement, applying pressure on policy-makers and collectively catalysing positive change for the ocean. Since its inception in 2020, it has empowered over 2.1 million people from every corner of the globe to participate in campaigns focused on establishing marine protected areas, combating plastics and pollution, positioning the ocean as a climate solution, and promoting sustainable fisheries management practices.
  • The report A quantification of bottom towed fishing activity in marine Natura 2000 sitesexamines the prevalence of bottom trawling within Natura 2000 sites in marine protected waters in seven EU countries.
  • Global Fishing Watch (GFW) fishing effort data was used to quantify total apparent bottom fishing hours and fishing intensity within marine Natura 2000 sites designated under the Habitats Directive. See detailed methodology in the report. 
  • The latest ICES Advice looks at a spatial trade-off analysis between reducing the extent of mobile bottom-contacting gear (MBCG) disturbance to seafloor habitats and potential costs to fisheries.