In recent years, the EU coastal states have moved backward rather than forward in terms of sustainable use of the seas. The fishing industry in particular has not been able to deliver sustainable development. That is the conclusion of a recent study conducted by Wilfried Rickels, a researcher at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, together with colleagues. According to this study, almost all EU coastal states are in a worse position in 2018 than they were in 2012 with regard to sustainable development of their seas and oceans.
This trend is particularly worrisome because sustainable growth in all marine and maritime sectors is not only a declared objective of the EU but is also firmly embedded in the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations Agenda 2030.
Rickels points to the study’s most conspicuous underachievers: “Sweden, Spain, Ireland, and especially Portugal show significantly lower scores in 2018 than in 2012.” The only country to have made progress is Estonia, which managed to improve its figures. For their study, Rickels and co-authors Christian Weigand, Patricia Grasse, Jörn Schmidt, and Rudi Voss analyzed various indicators of “blue growth” in EU coastal states on the North Sea, Baltic Sea, and the Atlantic. EU coastal states from the Mediterranean region were not included due to a lack of data. Examples of the indicators used include potential nutrient input into the sea and the state of fish stocks in terms of quantities considered biologically sustainable as well as economic facets, such as the sustainability of tourism.
“We found a drop in indicators relating to fishing in particular,” says Rickels. Compared to 2012, catches of fish stocks with a biomass below the biomass reference points set by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) have increased significantly. The relevant indicator has declined accordingly by an average of 22 points. This development is also reflected in other indicators, which show that the total allowable catch is increasingly being exceeded and that less attention is being given to scientific advice when determining the total allowable catch than in 2012.
The study reveals a strong need to establish which political decisions have been made (or not made) and where institutional parameters are lacking that seek to ensure sustainable growth of the marine and maritime sectors.
The researchers see a connection between the appointment of Karmenu Vella as European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries [in 2014] and a decline in sustainability in the use of the seas. “Even before Vella was appointed, environmental organizations were skeptical as to whether he would continue the sustainability-oriented policy of his predecessor, Maria Damanaki,” says co-author Rudi Voss. He believes it has been shown that skepticism was warranted. On the other hand, it will be interesting to examine more closely how Estonia has managed to buck the negative trend.