The Commission adopted yesterday a report on the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) which reveals that, while the EU’s framework for marine environmental protection is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious worldwide, persistent challenges remain, such as excess nutrients, underwater noise, plastic litter, and other types of pollution as well as unsustainable fishing.
This message is further reinforced in the European Environment Agency’s “Marine Messages II” also published yesterday.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner in charge of the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, said “This report and the accompanying EEA Marine Messages confirm that we need to step up action to protect our seas and oceans. We have made progress, for example in the field of sustainable fisheries, but we need additional efforts and stop the irresponsible pollution of our seas. I note with regret that EU Member States will not achieve the Good Environmental Status they were legally required to achieve across all their marine waters by 2020 and that, for some marine regions, efforts required are substantial. The Commission will launch a review of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, to see what has worked and what has no’t, and act upon the shortcomings identified. Protecting our seas and oceans is an integral part of the European Green Deal, and it is the precondition for our fishermen and fisherwomen to provide us with healthy and sustainable seafood also in the future and therefore deserves our continued attention across policy areas”.
Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, said “Our seas and marine ecosystems are suffering as a result of years of severe over-exploitation and neglect. We may soon reach a point of no return, but, as our report confirms, we still have a chance to restore our marine ecosystems if we act decisively and coherently and strike a sustainable balance between the way we use of seas and our impact on the marine environment. In this context, the new EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 and other elements of the European Green Deal bring must guide urgent and coherent action for protection and restoration to be underway.”
The MSFD report paints a mixed picture of the state of Europe’s seas. Almost half of Europe’s coastal waters are subject to intense eutrophication. Although EU rules regulating chemicals have led to a reduction in contaminants, there has been an increased accumulation of plastics and plastic chemical residues in most of the marine species. Thanks to the EU’s common fisheries policy, nearly all landings in the North-East Atlantic come from healthy stocks. This is however not yet the case in the Mediterranean, for which more efforts are needed.
The EEA’s Marine Messages II report, which feeds into the Commission’s review, shows that historic and, in some cases, current use of our seas is taking its toll resulting in changes in the composition of marine species and habitats to changes in the seas’ overall physical and chemical make-up. It suggests solutions that can help the EU achieve its goal of clean, healthy and productive seas, mainly through ecosystem-based management. It also adds that there are signs of marine ecosystem recovery in some areas as a result of significant, often decade-long, efforts to reduce certain impacts like those caused by contaminants, eutrophication, and overfishing.
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) has provided a push towards a better understanding of the pressures and impacts of human activities on the sea, and their implications for marine biodiversity, their habitats, and the ecosystems they sustain. The knowledge gained from implementing this Directive was, for example, a driving force leading to the adoption of the Single Use Plastics Directive. It has led to increased cooperation among littoral Member States of the four European sea regions, as well as across marine regions. As a result non-EU Member States also aim to achieve good environmental status or its equivalent.
The Directive requires that Member States set up regionally-coordinated strategies in order to achieve clean, healthy and productive seas. This overarching goal, referred to as “Good Environmental Status”, is determined over a number of so-called ‘descriptors’ (e.g. biodiversity, fisheries, eutrophication, contaminants, litter, underwater noise). It is a key piece of legislation that protects and preserves marine biodiversity and its habitats, it is therefore an important tool to implement the 2030 Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies and a major contributor to achieving the Zero-Pollution ambition at sea. It is also closely linked to the upcoming Strategies for Sustainable Chemicals and Smart and Sustainable Transport.
The MSFD must be reviewed by mid-2023 and where necessary, amendments will be proposed. The review will further analyse the achievements and challenges to environmental protection of European Seas in accordance with the Commission’s better regulation agenda and will be carried out in parallel with a review of the Common Fisheries Policy.