Key Marine Environmental Legislative Requirements — Seafish

Key Marine Environmental Legislative Requirements

Summary of key legislation and international commitments regarding the marine environment of relevance to the fishing and aquaculture industries.

EC Birds Directive 2009/147/EC transposed by means of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended; Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009); the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010; Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013; the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017; Offshore Regulations 2017.

EC Habitats Directive 92/43/EC transposed by means of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended; Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009); the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010; Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013; Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 / Offshore Regulations 2017.

EC Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC transposed by means of the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003; Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) Regulations Northern Ireland) 2003. 

EC Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008/56/EC transposed by means of the Marine and Coastal Act 2010; the Marine Strategy Regulations 2010; the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The Directive sets out, in Annex I, eleven qualitative descriptors which describe what the environment will look like when GES has been achieved.

  • Descriptor 1. Biodiversity is maintained
  • Descriptor 2. Non-indigenous species do not adversely alter the ecosystem
  • Descriptor 3. The population of commercial fish species is healthy
  • Descriptor 4. Elements of food webs ensure long-term abundance and reproduction
  • Descriptor 5. Eutrophication is minimised
  • Descriptor 6. The sea floor integrity ensures functioning of the ecosystem
  • Descriptor 7. Permanent alteration of hydrographical conditions does not adversely affect the ecosystem
  • Descriptor 8. Concentrations of contaminants give no effects
  • Descriptor 9. Contaminants in seafood are below safe levels
  • Descriptor 10. Marine litter does not cause harm
  • Descriptor 11. Introduction of energy (including underwater noise) does not adversely affect the ecosystem 

EC Maritime Spatial Planning 2014/89/EU transposed by means of Environment (Maritime Spatial Planning) Regulations 2016.

EU Regulation EC 812/2004 lays down measures concerning incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries. The measures pertinent to the UK include a coordinated monitoring of cetacean bycatch through compulsory onboard observers for given fisheries and the mandatory use of acoustic deterrent devices (‘pingers’) in certain fisheries. EU Regulation 812/2004 is due to be repealed, with bycatch monitoring becoming integrated into the more generalised fishery Data Collection Framework (DCF) and for mitigation measures to be integrated within the Technical Measures Framework (TMF) of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

OSPAR: The OSPAR Convention (replacing the Oslo and Paris Conventions) is the mechanism by which 15 governments of the coastal states of NW Europe, together with the European Commission, cooperate to protect the marine environment of the NE Atlantic. Contracting Parties are expected to take all possible steps to prevent and eliminate pollution and to implement the necessary measures to protect the maritime area against the adverse effects of human activities so as to safeguard human health and to conserve marine ecosystems and, when practicable, restore marine areas which have been adversely affected. In 2017, OSPAR produced an intermediate assessment of good environmental status for the European Atlantic.

Bonn Convention: The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), or Bonn Convention, sets out general provisions for the protection and conservation of certain migratory marine mammals (i.e. whales, dolphins and porpoises). Of key relevance is the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic, North-East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas(ASCOBANS). ASCOBANS is applied in all UK waters within the Agreement area, including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, in accordance with existing statutory protection for cetacean species. ASCOBANS has a variety of resolutions that Contracting Parties need to adhere to which include bycatch monitoring and mitigation, ocean energy and noise disturbance, addressing cumulative impacts of anthropogenic activity, the impact of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), the treat from underwater munitions, and response to strandings. ASCOBANS also a number of species conservation plans, two of which are of relevant to the UK: the Conservation plan for harbour porpoise in the North Sea and the Conservation Plan for Common Dolphins. Both these plans are focused on reducing the impact of bycatch on these species.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): has three main objectives: conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. For the conservation of biodiversity, five strategic goals have been developed with a total of 20 targets called the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Of key relevance are:

Strategic Goal A: address the underlying cause of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society

Target 4 – by 2020 at the latest governments, business and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits.

Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use

Target 6 – by 2020 all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.

Target 7 – by 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.

Target 8 – by 2020, pollution including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.

Target 9 – by 2020 invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritised, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent introduction and establishment.

Strategic goal C: to improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity

Target 11 – by 2020 at least 17% of terrestrial and 10% of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecological representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.

Strategic Goal D: enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Target 14 – by 2020 ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES):aims to regulate international trade in species that are endangered or may become endangered if their exploitation is not controlled. EC Regulation 338/97 provides for CITES provisions, which were amended through EU Regulation 2017/160. Other implementing legislation include EC Regulation 865/06EC Regulation 792/2012 and EC Regulation 2015/870 and EU Regulation 2017/1915.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS): lays down a comprehensive regime of law for the world's oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. It enshrines the notion that all problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be addressed as a whole. All states enjoy the traditional freedoms of navigation, overflight, scientific research and fishing on the high seas; they are obliged to adopt, or cooperate with other States in adopting, measures to manage and conserve living resources. Coastal States have sovereign rights in a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with respect to natural resources and certain economic activities, and exercise jurisdiction over marine science research and environmental protection. In addition UNCLOS requires that contracting parties “shall cooperate with a view to the conservation of marine mammals and in the case of cetaceans shall in particular work through the appropriate international organisations for their conservation, management and study” and that signatories must take measures “necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life”.

United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: In 2015, countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. SDG 14 Life below water aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. The world’s oceans, their temperature, chemistry, currents and life, drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea. Throughout history, oceans and seas have been vital conduits for trade and transportation. Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future.


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