Dima Litvinov, Oceans Campaign
For the past ten years or so I have had the privilege of working with the Greenpeace Oceans campaign. The work has taken me to many parts of the world’s oceans – from the Baltic to the Pacific, from the Barents and Kara seas in the north to the Southern ocean; from small harbors in Argentina to large industrial European landing ports; from 100 meter super trawlers to 9 meter gill netters; from state-owned ships to rusty hulls with no flag and painted-over IMO numbers.
Over the years time and again I encountered a situation that seemed absurd, one that is not often encountered on dry land: a slow, complicated ineffective and often non-existent legislation for regulating human activities at sea. Not least have I seen this in the EU waters.
One often hears the opinion that EU’s waters are overregulated. I can almost agree with this. There is a great number of authorities who regulate different aspects of human activities in EU waters. At the same time it appears that the very plethora of regulators leads to UNDERREGULATION, a situation where important aspects fall between chairs, or are pushed from one table to another without any resolution.
I experience this underregulation – as a result in part of overregulation – in particular when it comes to protection of marine environment. No single EU body today has the possibility and responsibility to act to truly protect the marine ecosystems from negative human impact. Not least is this true if the negative impact is associated with fisheries.
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EU has a powerful tool for protection of environment – Natura 2000 CONCEPT. Member states can (and must) propose a representative network of ecologically important habitats that, after approval by the EU, are protected against negative impact of human activities. It is normally the responsibility of nature protection authorities to prepare and implement these. This works on land.’
When it comes to the sea, and more specifically to the protection of sensitive marine habitats from negative impact of fisheries, the system fails. National environmental authorities suddenly find that their hands are tied – they do not have the right to impose fishing bans. The only way to impose such a fishing ban formally, at least outside the 12-mile line, is via a decision of Agriculture and Fisheries Minister council – a very complicated and politically expensive path, which no national environmental protection authority is willing to follow.
The result is absurd – around EU coasts are a number of areas that scientists and authorities believe have high natural values that are threatened by fisheries. These areas are declared on paer to be protected areas. But the destructive activity – fishing – is not forbidden.
Can such a situation arise on dry land? Hardly. A nature reserve in a forest where clear cutting is allowed is hard to imagine.
For many years now Greenpeace (and many others of course) have worked to eliminate the absurdity of the European legislation. And during all of these years destructive fisheries on Natura 2000 areas have continued, while discussions in the corridors have drawn out in time. Last year we took a more active step in our work to protect the marine environment by physically protecting an area with a high biological value that the authorities have failed to protect legally.
We placed a number of fishing obstacles on the sea bottom on the Sylt outer reef, am extremely valuable part of the North Sea near the German coast. We succeeded to do what the governments have failed to deliver – stopping destructive fisheries in an area that the German government (with the EU blessing) state needs to be protected.
Today Greenpeace chooses to focus on 2 similar areas – Lilla Middelgrund and Fladen in Kattegatt. Both of these areas are designated Natura 2000 areas. In both areas bottom fisheries have been identified as a threat against natural values. In neither of these areas has a ban on such fisheries been instituted. What we would like to see is action from the Swedish government to eliminate the problem:
–the best would naturally be a much more streamlined legislation where environmental authorities in individual member states have the ability to forbid all damaging activities (including fisheries) that may damage a designated Natura 2000 area. Sweden should work towards this goal within the EU, especially during the upcoming period of holding EU presidency.
–Until such a regulation is in place, the existing rules of the game must be used, even if they are difficult, complicated and politically uncomfortable – Which means that in each individual case where a fishing ban is needed Sweden works via the Commission and the Council to implement a fishing ban.
–But the Swedish government should also look for other, more innovative solutions. The authorities can take same measures that Greenpeace carried out on Sylt – place trawling obstacles in and around areas that are threatened by such fisheries.
While awaiting the implementation of such protection we plan to carry out same activities that we did on Sylt last year – placing on the sea bottom in order to protect Fladen and Lilla Middelgrund.
It is a large scale project that we propose to carry out. In order to optimize the results we intend to carry out a through environmental impact assessment where we will solicit input from as many parties with relevant knowledge as possible, even if we are not legally bound to ask for a permission or to carry out such an environmental impact assessment.
We see this web site as an important tool in the EIA process – it is her that we will publish all the comments and the discussion that we hope to elicit by our proposal. We will send the EIAs to a number of individuals and institutions whose opinions we are particularly keen to receive. However all are welcome to submit comments, either in the format of short blog comments or by becoming an official “reviewer”.
In addition to this forum the EIA will be based on at least one open hearing. We will also continuously look for more information in research reports, authorities’ archives and out at sea in order to make the final project as perfect as possible.
We hope to have a lively discussion. Thank you for participating! And yet again – welcome!