The European Commission has released a package of files that acknowledges the magnitude and negative impact of fisheries on marine ecosystems, and revives its commitments for better implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy. However, the scale of the solutions proposed to achieve a thriving, future-proof ocean are inadequate and will be meaningless if not fully put into practice by Member States – as was the case in the past –  and enforced by the Commission. 

Brussels 21 February 2023 – Today, the long-awaited fisheries package that sets the path for marine protection, sustainable fisheries management, and decarbonisation of the fishing industry, has finally been published by the European Commission [1]. 

Seas At Risk, the Brussels-based NGO campaigning for ambitious protection and restoration of the marine environment, welcomes the European Commission’s acknowledgement of the need to shift to low-impact fisheries, by moving away from destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling [2], truly protecting sensitive species from incidental catches [3], and modernising the fishing sector in line with the EU’s just transition process. 

Although the Commission calls on Member States to phase out bottom trawling from all marine protected areas (MPAs), it only requires them to do so by 2030 [4] meaning that destructive bottom gears will be permitted to destroy the seabed in supposedly protected areas for seven more years. This is unacceptable in the context of an accelerating biodiversity and climate crisis.

Andrea Ripol, Senior Marine Policy Officer at Seas At Risk, said: It is reassuring to see the Commission calling for a just transition to low impact fisheries, and acknowledging bottom trawling is a technique belonging to the past. However, as Member States have been ignoring their environmental commitments, we count on the Commission to swiftly enforce the rules [5] and propose new legislation to make sure bottom trawling and its disastrous impact on marine life is stopped once and for all.

The Commission also acknowledges that incidental catches of sensitive species [6] continues to be a problem in the EU, due to Member States not abiding by their obligations under EU legislation [7].  The Commission proposes a new timetable for Member States to put in place rules that they should already have implemented. 

Christine Adams, Fisheries Policy Officer at Seas At Risk, said: “The Commission’s proposed rules on preserving sensitive species from incidental catches turns today’s Action Plan into an Inaction Plan. When Member States fail to minimise incidental catches of sensitive species, the Commission must be determined to use its power to make sure dolphins, whales and sharks are duly protected, as required by legislation”. [8]

Seas At Risk welcomes the Commission’s renewed commitment to encourage Member States to better implement the Common Fisheries Policy, including by taking environmental, social and economic criteria into account when allocating fishing quotas. However, if the Commission wants to live up to  its commitments on sustainability, biodiversity and climate protection, it must be more courageous to implement existing legislation through systematically applying infringement procedures and emergency measures on non-compliant Member States, and assuring policy coherence with other legislation such as the new Nature Restoration Law, which dramatically lacks measures to implement current environmental legislation and fisheries legislation, including the Common Fisheries Policy.



[0] Joint NGOs’ press release reacting to the European Commission Communication on the Action Plan for Energy Transition for EU fisheries

[1] The European Commission has published a fisheries package which includes the Action plan to protect marine ecosystems and fisheries resources, the Common Fisheries Policy review, and the Action Plan on Energy Transition for the EU fisheries

[2] Bottom Trawling is the most damaging, fuel intensive, non selective and widespread fishing practice. Fact sheet with data. The Commission declared bottom trawling “among the most widespread and damaging activities to the seabed and its associated habitats”. Sustainable fisheries would require “moving away from mobile bottom fishing, and, in parallel, ensuring that it is not replaced with equal or worse alternatives”. 

[3] In the Action plan to protect marine ecosystems and fisheries resources, the European Commission addresses the main impacts of fisheries on marine ecosystems:  unintended, incidental catches of sensitive species like dolphins, turtles and birds,  unintended by-catch of non-commercial fish species or too young fish,  and destruction of bottom habitats by bottom-contacting mobile gears – mainly bottom trawling. 

[4] According to the European Commission’s proposal, bottom trawling will be phased out in all Marine Protected Areas by 2030. This plan will firstly be effective in those areas established for seabed protection, and then extended to all other protected areas. However the measure is not binding. 

[5] As the Action Plan to protect marine ecosystems and fisheries resources points out: Member States do not abide by their obligations under EU legislation, they do not fully implement the Data Collection Regulation, Birds and Habitat Directives and the Common Fisheries Policy – they are required to develop and implement protection measures in their national waters and come up with joint recommendations for fisheries measures with other Member States that fish in the relevant areas. However, this process often gets blocked and does not successfully deliver. When it works, it takes a long time, and the result is often the lowest common denominator. Example of failure: incidental of dolphins in Bay of Biscay.

[6] Several shark species, sea turtles, marine mammals – such as the Baltic harbour porpoise and Mediterranean monk seals – and seabirds, such as the Balearic shearwater, face threats from static net fisheries, whilst marine mammals are also often caught in large pelagic trawls, seabirds in longline fisheries and sea turtles in trawls and longlines. The solutions to minimize incidental catches are already required under the Technical Measures Regulation (EU) 2019/1241. Solutions include technical changes to fishing gear and fishing restrictions in times and areas when or where the relevant sensitive species.

[7] Despite being strictly protected by the EU Habitats Directive, sensitive species largely suffer from incidental catches, which not only contribute to the decline of their populations but, in certain cases, threaten them with extinction. 

[8] When Member States fail to implement the EU legislation to minimize incidental catches of sensitive species, the European Commission can undertake several steps. Under the Common Fisheries Policy, the European Commission can adopt emergency fisheries measures to protect threatened species, propose fishing opportunities that take lack of selectivity into account and start infringement procedures against those Member States that do not implement the EU law of the Habitats Directive.