In its new report ‘Tackling overfishing and marine litter’, Seas At Risk undertakes an analysis of fisheries and marine litter measures adopted by Member States under the Marine Directive. While noting some progress, it concludes that much more effort is needed to achieve healthy fish stocks and reduce harm from marine litter by 2020. The report also provides recommendations on the measures needed.

The EU Marine Directive requires Member States to put in place measures to achieve biologically diverse, clean and healthy seas by 2020. Together with its members and other NGOs, Seas At Risk took a critical look at what Member States are actually doing to achieve this noble goal. The report focuses on fisheries and marine litter measures.

The analysis showed that 67% of fisheries measures and 35% of litter measures were actually to implement existing legislative requirements for example related to the Common Fisheries Policy and the Waste Framework Directive. Only 27% of fisheries and 30% of litter measures were new legislative proposals and 6% of fisheries and 35% of litter were voluntary instruments.

2017 12 06 MSFD report Fisheries and Marine litter measures together

The Common Fisheries Policy aims to end overfishing by 2020, and failure to fully implement this legislation will also result in a failure to achieve healthy fish stocks under the Marine Directive. Sadly, this may be the case for all Member States. One of the additional values of the Marine Directive, over and above the Common Fisheries Policy, is that it also requires actions to ensure a high proportion of old/ large sexually mature individuals in commercial fish populations. This is an important condition of healthy stocks. Only a few new measures were proposed to address this aspect of the Marine Directive. Seas At Risk calls on Member States to urgently develop measures to address this by for example establishing more fish stock recovery areas and other no-take zones, as well as other measures following scientific advice.

2017 12 06 Atlantic overfishing MSFD report

For marine litter Seas At Risk found that measures were mainly focused on coastal measures, clean-ups and education. Only very few addressed the root causes of the problem, such as the over production and use of single-use plastic, microplastics and plastic packaging. To stop marine litter at source it is essential to change our production and consumption patterns in order to prevent the creation of waste. This is only just beginning to be tackled by a couple of countries as part of their Marine Directive measures. Seas At Risk recommends that more use is made of economic instruments either by charging the consumer (e.g. plastic bag charges) or making the producer pay for waste treatment and littering. Large scale, cost effective removal of marine litter is currently not possible, the best way to reduce the problem is by ending the input of waste to the seas. The report contains a number of recommendations for measures to tackle specific types of marine litter that are prevalent in European waters that have so far not been included in Member States measures.

2017 12 06 MSDF report marine litter statistics

Seas At Risk and its members also evaluated the effectiveness of measures adopted by Member States. Those that were thought to have a limited effect or no effect were due to the fact they were either voluntary; had limited geographical scope; lacked details or low level of ambition (e.g. the quantitative target has been set too low or inexistent) or were monitoring measures rather than actions to address the issue.

So time is pressing on for Member States to meet the Marine Directive. Meanwhile, preparations for the second cycle of implementation are in full swing. We will keep a watchful eye on progress and hope the countries will significantly step up their ambitions to deliver on their commitment to turn our seas to good health by 2020.