At the Marrakesh Summit held on June 11-12, coastal countries confirmed their commitment to combat overfishing in the Mediterranean, the most overexploited sea in the world. However, scientists argue that total bans in the most vulnerable areas are required.
For many years, scientists have been warning us about the coastal fishing eldorados where trawlers inflict the most damage in the Mediterranean. In such places, young fish gather for reproduction, but are killed before they can even produce offspring. This is especially true for species such as hake and red mullet, which live at or near the bottom of the sea, and are often scooped up by trawl nets in large numbers. Particularly hake, the most endangered species, is fished more than 10 times its sustainability level, according to the last report of the FAO Scientific Advisory Committee on Fisheries .
Reducing the mortality rate of juvenile fish is crucial, since they have higher reproduction rates than adults and therefore contribute the most to fish stock preservation. If these young fish were allowed to reach maturity and reproduce at least once, Mediterranean fish stocks would be greatly improved.
This is basic science, but political decisions, necessarily built on compromise, tend to follow the easiest rather than the most effective path. This is no less true of the new Western Mediterranean (WestMed) Fishery Management Plan , approved by the European Parliament last April and entering into force in 2020. Besides a slow multi-annual reduction of fishing activities, the plan only establishes a general trawling ban, subjected to both space and time limits. Introducing total restriction regimes in sensitive spawning and nursery areas is only an option that Member States are free to adopt or not.