Cover picture of the new policy brief on bottom trawling

Protection of marine habitats and biodiversity is a major challenge globally. In Europe, a high proportion of marine species and habitats show an unfavourable conservation status and the loss of marine biodiversity has not been halted, despite ambitious goals and legislation.

Fishing is one of the key pressures on the marine environment, both through resource extraction and through the damage done to the seabed. European waters are some of the most intensively bottom-trawled areas in the world; there are a number of regions where more than half of the seabed is trawled each year, in extreme cases up to 99 percent of the seabed, with some hotspots trawled more than ten times per year.

In addition to the documented effects on extracted species, there are serious concerns that this intensive trawling has negative effects on benthic ecosystems, both through direct effects on the seabed and by suspension of sediment and associated substances. This affects biological diversity, production of fish and biogeochemical processes in the sediment that regulate nutrients and carbon cycles. Therefore, reducing bottom trawling and its impacts are important measures for an ecosystembased fisheries management, in accordance with the Common Fisheries Policy.

It is also instrumental for protection and restoration of marine biodiversity in Europe and for achieving the targets for biodiversity and seabed integrity in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. This needs to be acknowledged in the development and imple-mentation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.

Policy recommendations

Establish more and larger trawl-free areas encompassing all typs of seabed habitats:

  • to protect sensitive benthic species and habitats from direct trawling effects and from suspended sediments from adjacent areas
  • as part of a precautionary fisheries management
  • as reference areas for evaluating long-term effects of trawling

Reduce the effects of bottom trawling by promoting the use of alternative gears, such as passive gears or trawls with less impact on the seabed.

Download and read:

Policy brief: Bottom trawling threatens European marine ecosystems (2228 Kb)



Clare Bradshaw, Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences
Sofia Wikström, Baltic Sea Centre