Almost 30% of European marine waters are designated as protected areas. This sounds reassuring, but does not mean that there is no use in these areas, for example through fishing. For example, trawling is permitted in many of the so-called MPAs, with considerable negative effects, as a recent study by German and Canadian scientists recently published in the journal Science has shown.
The researchers studied more than 700 MPAs in European Union waters around the British Isles, the North Sea, France and Spain (excluding the Mediterranean). Analysis of satellite data revealed that trawl intensity in MPAs was on average 40% higher than outside protected areas. “We show that the number of different shark and ray species in areas with high trawling is up to 69% lower,” said Manuel Dureuil, principal author of the study from Dalhousie University. “These are often bottom trawlers, which can also have negative effects on other organisms.”
“Our study shows that bottom trawling marine protected areas are not safe havens, but endangered species are more threatened there than outside these areas,” says Dr. Rainer Froese, co-author of the study by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel. “So that protected areas deserve their name, bottom trawling has to be stopped,” continues Froese. In his view, there is no need to fish for the MPAs. If fish stocks were managed sustainably, stock sizes would grow and the permitted catches could easily be fished outside of MPAs, according to the Kiel fishery biologist.
The scientists therefore demand that the minimum standards of MPAs be urgently improved. Politicians must agree on internationally comparable standards excluding bottom trawling and management of MPAs needs to be strengthened and made more transparent. Only in this way can MPAs be able to contribute in the long term to sustainable protection of the marine environment and endangered species.