Protecting the marine environment

On the basis of international marine protection agreements, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) is involved in improving the state of the North and Baltic Seas as well as the North Atlantic. This involves following through on national and international commitments.

Marine conservation requires the effective protection of seas and inland waters as well as the sustainable management of agricultural areas. The standards and recommendations for this are negotiated in international conventions.

For example, the BMEL is working within the framework of the United Nations on revising the Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the fisheries agreement on highly migratory species. The Convention on Biological Diversity also deals with the protection and sustainable use of national resources in the oceans and national territorial waters as well as the establishment of protected areas, especially on the high seas. The basis of this is derived from the maritime law report of the UN General Secretary, the informal consultative process on law of the sea (UNICPOLOS) and the UN Marine Environment Protection Committee (MPEC).

The BMEL advocates

  • the preservation of the North Sea marine environment within the framework of the International Conference on the Protection of the North Sea and the Oslo-Paris-Commission (OSPAR)
  • the protection and sustainable development of the Baltic Sea within the framework of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) and of Baltic 21
  • the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation (TWC), the nature conservation cooperation for the Wadden Sea between Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany. Here the BMEL safeguards the interests of sustainable coastal and shellfish fishery.

European marine protection law

Within the framework of the European Maritime Strategy and the EU Green Paper on Maritime Policy, the BMEL advocates improving agro-environmental standards, sustainable fishing and the conservation of the seas as universal foundations of human existence.

The BMEL is involved in the implementation and delivery of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The fisheries institutes of the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute (TI) within the remit of the BMEL are responsible for fisheries-related indicators and pollutant monitoring.

The increasingly close alignment of the Common Fisheries Policy to the principles of sustainability - while still taking scientific guidelines into consideration - also needs to be seen against this backdrop of marine conservation. However, increased research activity is a precondition for any efforts within marine conservation to accommodate the ecosystem approach and the precautionary approach.

Together with the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU), the BMEL develops fisheries management plans for the marine protected areas within the German exclusive economic zone of the North and Baltic Seas in line with NATURA 2000 and based on the scientific findings of the TI and the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN).
With regard to the NATURA 2000 fisheries management system for the protected areas in the North Sea, the coordination procedure required under EU law between the relevant Member States was successfully completed in January 2019 following difficult consultations. This clears the way for a legislative procedure by the European Commission for legislation on the protection of reefs, sandbanks, harbour porpoises and seabirds. During this process, the interests of a sustainable and economically sound fisheries sector were also taken into account.

A proposal by the Federal Government on fisheries management in the Baltic Sea, which contains regulations for fishing gear with seabed contact to protect reefs and sandbanks, will be presented to the Länder, industry and environmental organisations in February 2019. This will be followed, as in the case of the North Sea, by the consultation procedure with the Baltic Sea coastal states which have a fishing interest in the protected areas.

Endangered marine mammals

Another concern of the Federal Government is the protection of marine mammals, especially whales and dolphins. These highly developed creatures are threatened on the one hand by targeted fishing activities because whale meat is still considered a delicacy in certain countries. On the other hand, it is important to prevent fishing activities where marine mammals might get caught in nets and drown. In addition, marine mammals are threatened by marine pollution and noise emissions arising in particular from vessels and oil rigs. The noise interferes with the animal's sense of direction and is probably the cause of whales often getting beached and perishing in agony.

Plastic waste in the seas

In the marine environment, the fisheries sector is affected by plastic inputs from land, which account for about 80 to 90 percent of the plastic in the oceans. Inputs of plastic waste at sea therefore account for a much smaller percentage of inputs into the marine environment.

The BMEL has commissioned a research project on "Plastic waste and marine fish" which, among other things, will investigate the extent to which marine fish ingest plastic waste and the effects of plastic waste on fish health.

In addition, the Thünen Institute has been commissioned to prepare an expert opinion on fisheries-related waste in the sea. The figures of the expert opinion are to be classified as a first estimate. According to this, the percentage of total waste items that possibly originate from fishing in the North Sea amounts to between 23 and 34 percent and in the Baltic Sea between 4 and 24 percent. It should be noted that this information refers to "items", not "quantities".

Council Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009 of 20 November 2009 (Fisheries Control Regulation) requires fishing vessels to carry on board equipment for the recovery of lost fishing gear, to recover lost fishing gear and to inform the competent authorities in case they are unable to recover the fishing gear.

Within the projekt DRopS (Dolly Rope Suspension) the Thünen Institute, together with the fisheries sector, is working on ways of changing the design of the nets in such a way that they touch the seabed as little as possible or not at all and that consequently the use of dolly ropes is no longer necessary. The project is co-funded by...

  • the Länder Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony,
  • the European Commission and
  • own resources of the Thünen Institute and hence the BMEL.

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