Tomorrow, 3 May 2022, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will be watched by citizens and NGOs as they vote in a plenary session in Strasbourg on a crucial text for the climate and the protection of marine biodiversity and habitats.

As part of the Own Initiative Report of Portuguese socialist MEP Mrs. Isabel Carvalhais “Toward a sustainable blue economy in the EU” [1], Green MEP Caroline Roose tabled an amendment that was already adopted in the Fisheries and Development Committees of the European Parliament, and that is therefore going to be voted in Plenary. Mrs. Roose’s amendment sets out the very fundamentals of what a true “Marine Protected Area” should be by proposing to prohibit one of the most destructive forms of fishing, bottom trawling, in all marine protected areas.

Bottom trawling is a fishing method that consists in towing huge weighted nets and metal chains along the seafloor. It consumes large quantities of fuel, destroys marine ecosystems, levels habitats and catches all marine life indiscriminately. To make matters worse, the heavy towed nets stir up the carbon that is naturally stored in marine sediments, thereby worsening the climate crisis. Such destructive ways of catching fish have no place in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and are recognised internationally as incompatible with the concept of “protected” areas. Mrs. Roose’s amendment aims at raising the EU’s ambition on marine protection, to be on par with international standards on MPAs in a context of accelerating environmental crises.

If the conservative EPP political group, led by Spanish MEP Gabriel Mato, hadn’t called for a separate vote, the prohibition of bottom trawling inside Marine Protected Areas would have been adopted as part of the report. But this separate vote request was made with the purpose of singling out the prohibition of bottom trawling inside protected areas in order to “kill” it. Another Plenary amendment has been proposed by a group of MEPs, led by French Renew MEP Pierre Karleskind, which would eviscerate the text of any meaning. At a time of an unprecedented climatic crisis and biodiversity  collapse, voting to defend a ban on the most destructive fishing in our most sensitive ocean areas should be a “no brainer” for MEPs, but this does not take into account the bonds between MEPs and industrial fishing lobbies.

This vote will be a crash test of the European Parliament’s capacity to free itself from the influence of corporate lobbies with short-sighted interests. Although an own initiative report does not result in legally-binding legislation, the vote will send an important political signal that can reinforce the European Commission’s will to tackle the issue of poorly – if at all – “protected” areas of European waters and of the dreadful impacts of destructive fisheries on marine biodiversity and the seabed.

NGOs and citizens have asked MEPs to support the text as voted in the Development and Fisheries committees, and to thus follow Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expert recommendations in order to act with determination for our common future. Last year, more than 150,000 EU citizens called on the EU to ban bottom-trawling, starting immediately in all marine protected areas. Expectations are high and the vote will be closely followed. 


[1] Own-initiative report 2021/2188(INI) by the Portuguese Socialist MEP Isabel Carvalhais: “Toward a sustainable blue economy in the EU: the role of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors ».