Disconnects in EU and Greek fishery policies and practices in the eastern Aegean Sea and impacts on Posidonia oceanica meadows
Eirini Ioanna Vlachopoulou , A. Meriwether Wilson , Anastasia Miliou
Seagrasses provide essential ecosystem services to coastal communities, as they support key commercial marine species, biodiversity, tourism and coastal protection. Destructive fishing practices are having significant impacts on the seagrass meadows throughout the eastern Aegean Sea, in particular Posidonia oceanica. The majority of the local population in Greece are artisanal fishermen who rely on seagrass beds for their fisheries’ catches. The European Union supports the protection of Posidonia oceanica meadows through marine protected areas under the Habitats Directive and through the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The CFP defines destructive fishing practices (e.g. trawling within 1.5 nautical miles of member state shorelines) formally as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing practices. While destructive impacts of trawling on seagrass habitats are well documented, this fishing method poses a problem throughout the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Based on a case study of artisanal fishing communities in the Aegean Sea, this research examines the problem of destructive and illegal fishing in seagrass beds from both ecological and policy management perspectives, including: analyses of EU and Greek national fisheries legislation and a case study of two fishing communities in Greece, involving stakeholder interviews and habitat maps of fishery practices. Findings highlight disconnects in the application of fishing legislation between EU and Greek laws, socio-economic and institutional barriers to fisheries enforcement, and a lack of habitat baseline information. Recommendations focus on seagrass conservation through direct engagement of artisanal fishing communities in the management of local fisheries protection areas (FPAs) to support long-term survival of seagrasses ecosystems which sustain local fishing livelihoods today and for the future.