Polls expose gap between people’s opinion of marine protection in Europe and the stark reality 

Nearly 9 in 10 citizens (86%) surveyed across seven EU countries expect their political leaders to prioritise the protection of marine biodiversity, according to the results of national polls conducted by Sapience and published today. The study further identifies that, to protect the ocean, citizens consider safeguarding endangered marine species, marine habitats, and stopping overfishing to be essential or important – 97%, 96%, and 93% respectively. Post EU elections, this is a clear message to the new European Commission and to new Members of the European Parliament, to put ocean issues at the heart of their mandates.

The polls further reveal that 9 in 10 citizens (90%) believe that to protect marine biodiversity, marine protected areas (MPAs) are a necessary tool. In the seven countries surveyed, 82% of citizens believe in stricter regulation of bottom trawling (ranging from 75% support in The Netherlands to 93% in Portugal), and 73% of citizens would support banning this destructive fishing practice in EU MPAs. A recent Eurobarometer poll confirmed that European citizens place high importance on environmental matters and vastly believe legislation to be necessary to protect the environment.

Tatiana Nuño, senior marine policy officer at Seas at Risk, said: “The recent announcements by the Greek and Swedish governments that they will ban bottom trawling in marine protected areas, along with the overwhelming public support for stricter marine protection unveiled by these European polls, must trigger a positive trend of concrete actions over the new upcoming EU political cycle. The destructive practice of bottom trawling should be banned from all European protected areas to preserve a healthy ocean that, in turn, can support sustainable jobs and a resilient blue economy.”

Nicolas Fournier, campaign director for marine protection at Oceana in Europe, said: “Despite claims against the EU Green Deal and the protection of the environment made by conservative and far-right forces during the elections campaign, facts don’t lie: EU citizens want more marine protection. Restrictions against destructive fishing in protected areas are one way to achieve this. We call on the new EU political leaders to protect Europe’s seas and respond to the climate and biodiversity crises threatening them, to also safeguard the future of ocean-dependent communities, including fishers.”

EU polls were conducted in April 2024 by independent polling agency Sapience [1], who polled 1000 people each in Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and The Netherlands, representative of national populations. 

90% of citizens across the seven countries of the polls believe MPAs are necessary to conserve marine biodiversity. This shows a wide gap between people’s opinion of actual protection afforded to marine life, and the stark reality of destructive fishing inside MPAs. Indeed, a report released by Oceana, Seas At Risk and the Marine Conservation Society in April revealed that, in reality, bottom trawling is taking place in 90% of offshore EU MPAs, ravaging the very habitats and species these areas are intended to protect. Concretely, the report found that 4.4 million hours of apparent bottom trawling were taking place in MPAs between 2015-2023, in the same seven countries as the polls. 

The polls also reveal that greater knowledge of MPAs amongst citizens correlates with stronger support for stricter legislation on them – ranging from roughly 40% support amongst those with no knowledge at all, to almost 60% amongst those who know a great deal. 


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. 

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. 


Notes to editors

[1] Sapience is a Brussels-based independent research and consultancy agency, present in 19 markets. The polls were commissioned by NGOs Oceana and Seas At Risk.