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Natura 2000 @ Sea

Theme coordinator:
Mike Mannaart (Kust & Zee / Coastinfo, Leiden, NL)

The EUCC Marine Team aims to support the implementation process of the marine Natura 2000 network by exchanging knowledge and experience across the EU, paying special attention to fisheries management.

The Marine Natura 2000 Network

The marine component of the Natura 2000 network will be an integral component of the overall Natura 2000 European ecological network. As for the terrestrial environment, the marine network will aim to protect sites of European conservation importance for (i) natural habitat types listed in Annex I and (ii) the habitats for the species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive, in order to ensure that these features can be maintained or, where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range.

The marine component of Natura 2000 network will also need to include a coherent network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) classified pursuant to the Birds Directive. These will be the most suitable territories in number and size for the conservation of marine birds listed in annex I of Birds Directive as well as migratory marine birds, taking into account their protection requirements. Whereas the species scope of the Birds Directive is already comprehensive for the marine it is recognised that the present Annexes of the Habitats Directive have limited focus on marine species and habitat types, especially those that occur in the offshore marine environment.

An important first step in protecting the marine environment will be the full implementation of the existing marine Natura 2000 commitments. This work may need to be complemented in the near future with the listing of additional marine habitat types and species, which would provide a legal basis for extending the scope of the marine network. In the framework of the Marine Strategy, the Commission has proposed a framework for the development of a rational approach for the full implementation of Natura2000 at sea with a view to consider potential proposals for adapting the annexes to the Habitats Directive to strengthen them with regard to marine habitats and species. This process is intended to provide the basis for the protection of other relevant habitat types and species. This challenging problem needs to be solved in a cooperative manner at EU level. There are a number of marine habitat types and species of European conservation concern that are not covered at present by the Habitats and Birds directives but which need protection to ensure their favourable conservation status. Many of these habitats and species are identified and listed by the regional seas programmes (OSPAR, Helsinki, Barcelona and Bucharest Convention). Further scientific knowledge and evaluation will be needed to complement these listings.

Links between the Nature Directives and fisheries

In response to a request of the Fisheries Council, a Communication from the Commission [COM (2002) 186 final102] was issued in May 2002, setting out a Community Action Plan to integrate environmental protection requirements into the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This Action Plan defines guiding principles, management measures and provides a work programme, aimed at promoting sustainable development. It identifies several priority management actions; a number of which support objectives and requirements of the Habitats and Birds Directives. (e.g.: reducing incidental by-catch, impact on habitats). This Communication also encourages Member States to fulfil their obligations under the nature protection Directives within the shortest possible period, in particular those relating to the designation and management of marine sites forming part of the Natura 2000 network.

The EC Regulation for conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP103) provides an important tool to improve the protection of nature in the marine environment and the attainment of objectives of the Birds and Habitats Directive.

Developments in the Common Fisheries Policy

Since 1 January 2003, the European Union has a new Common Fisheries Policy. The principal text is Council Regulation (EC) N° 2371/2002 of 20/12/2002 mentioned above. The integration of environmental protection requirements into the Fisheries Policy, pursuant to Article 6 of the EC Treaty, was one of the major objectives of the Community legislator while adopting this Regulation. The aim of the new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is to ensure exploitation of living aquatic resources in a way that provides sustainable economic, environmental, and social conditions. For this purpose, the precautionary principle is introduced, the progressive implementation of an eco-system approach to fisheries management is foreseen106, as well as the need for the adoption of coherent measures concerning the limitation of the environmental impact of fishing. In the context of this legal framework, a number of measures have been taken to improve the conservation status of habitats and species in the marine environment during the last few years. These include:
- The shark finning Regulation: (EC) 1185/2003.
- The three-year sand-eel closure in force off the Firth of Forth (Scotland) since 2000 was renewed in 2003 following an expert consultation meeting convened by DG FISH. A study had been completed suggesting that the closure be extended for three more years until new evidence is gathered on the effects of the fishery on the survival of predator populations (birds, marine mammals, large fish).
- In 2003 and 2004 the Commission adopted under the emergency procedure two Commission Regulations ((EC) 1475/2003 and 263/2004) on the protection of deep- water coral reefs from the effects of trawling in the Darwin Mounds (North West of Scotland). These measures were made permanent in 2004 (Council Regulation ((EC) 602/2004).
- In 2004 legislation was put in place on incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries (Regulation No 812/2004) including compulsory use of acoustic deterrent devices in certain gear and setting up a Community observer programme designed to provide data on by-catch in a large number of fisheries.
- In 2005 legislation was adopted to protect vulnerable habitats such as coral reefs, thermal vents and carbonate mounds from the effects of fishing around the Macaronesian Isles (Council regulation (EC) No 1568/2005). An amendment to the 2004 TAC and Quota Regulation was approved to ensure temporary protection of these habitats in the meantime.
- In 2006 the Council adopted the Mediterranean Regulation ((EC) 1967/2006) which includes measures to protect sensitive habitats such as Posidonia beds and coral aggregations and to ban fishing practices that may damage the physical environment, such as the use of explosives and pneumatic hammers. It includes new technical measures on fishing gear, protection zones and minimal sizes.
- Legislation regulating the use of driftnets in Community fishing vessels (Council Regulations (EC) No 894/97 as amended by Regulation (EC) No 1235/98, (EC) No 812/2004, (EC) No 2187/2005)
- Legislation implementing fisheries restrictive areas to protect vulnerable deep sea habitats in the Mediterranean and in the North East Atlantic is included in Council Regulation (EC) No 41/2006 . (All the above legislation may be consulted in detail at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/index.htm)

The current CFP allows for better integration of environmental protection requirements into fisheries management. It therefore contributes directly to the achievement of the objectives of both the Birds and Habitats Directives. Furthermore, it provides for a system of protection for marine habitats and species from the harmful effects of fishing activities even in cases where the provisions of Natura 2000 do not apply. This is particularly relevant in situations such as the following:
a.) For the protection of nature features not listed in Annexes of the Habitats Directive
b.) For the protection of features that are listed in the Annexes, but occur in areas outside the jurisdiction of Member States.
c.) For the protection of those listed features, located in marine areas under the jurisdiction of Member States but not included in a SCI/SAC (because they are located out of a SCI or waiting for a proposal/designation) As shown above, the CFP allows for the implementation of fisheries management measures for the protection of the marine environment may already be taken under CFP provisions. They may be aimed at the protection of sites that are qualified to be designated as SACs or SPAs. Fisheries measures may be decided regardless of the stage in which the site designation process would be, as they are not necessarily linked to the implementation of the Habitats or Birds Directives. However, pressures on the marine environment do not only come from fisheries. Subsequently, designation of Natura 2000 sites is necessary to ensure a global and coherent protection scheme to address the effects produced by other human activities.

Scope of the EUCC Marine Team

The EUCC Marine Team aims at:
1. Observing the implementation processes of the marine Natura 2000 network, especially in relation to fisheries management and the Common Fisheries Policy Reform;
2. To identify mechanisms that might facilitate the implementation process, with regard to both habitats and species;
3. To identify gaps in knowledge that may hamper a successful and effective implementation of the Nature directives for the coastal and marine environment;
4. To share and exchange knowledge between NGOs, scientific experts and authorities.