Unsustainable fishing occurs in all European Seas and is threatening the viability of European fish stocks. 21 to 60% of the commercial fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean are considered to be outside safe biological limits.
Sea surface temperatures and sea level are rising and likely to rise further. The resulting shifts in the geographical and seasonal distribution of marine and coastal species will require adaptations in the management of fisheries and natural habitats to ensure environmental sustainability. Increasing temperatures and the acidification of the world’s oceans due to higher CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere also affect coral reefs in Europe´s overseas territories, which are important centres of biodiversity.
Sustainable use of the seas and the conservation of marine ecosystems through an ecosystem-based approach are being pursued through the Integrated Maritime Policy and its environmental pillar, the 2008 Marine Strategy Framework Directive, under which ‘good environmental status’ in European Seas is to be achieved in 2020. In addition, a reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy has been proposed to achieve sustainable management of European and global fisheries.
Nutrient enrichment is a major problem in the coastal and marine environment, where it accelerates the growth of phytoplankton and can lead to oxygen depletion. Concentrations of some heavy metals and persistent organic contaminants in marine biota exceed food stuff limits in all Europe’s seas.
Designation of coastal and marine sites as part of Natura 2000, although improving, has been slow and difficult. The conservation status of some coastal and most marine habitats still needs to be assessed, while 22 % of marine mammals are threatened with extinction. The available data suggest that the objective of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 has not been met.
Degradation of marine and coastal ecosystems is observed in the Black, Mediterranean, Baltic, North East Atlantic Seas and in the Arctic. This trend is caused by fishing, agriculture, the industrial use of chemicals, tourist development, shipping, energy exploitation and other maritime activities. Projected climate change is likely to increase the impact of these activities in all seas, and in the Arctic
Growth of the maritime, agriculture and tourism sectors is expected to continue. An important future objective for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive will be to ensure that this growth is sustainable to achieve and then maintain ‘Good Environmental Status’ of the marine environment. Moreover, it will be necessary to implement planning principles in line with the approaches of Integrated Coastal Zone Management and Maritime Spatial Planning.