Strategy for the marine environment

This Directive establishes a common framework and objectives for the protection and conservation of the marine environment. In order to achieve these common objectives, Member States will have to evaluate requirements in the marine areas for which they are responsible. They will then have to draw up and implement coherent management plans in each region, and then monitor their application.

Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) (Text with EEA relevance).


This directive establishes common principles on the basis of which Member States have to draw up their own strategies, in cooperation with other Member States and third countries, to achieve a good ecological status* in the marine waters for which they are responsible.

These strategies aim to protect and restore Europe’s marine ecosystems and to ensure the ecological sustainability of economic activities linked to the marine environment.

Europe’s seas may be divided into four regions (with possible subregions): the Baltic Sea, the North-East Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In each region and possibly in the subregions to which they belong, the Member States concerned must coordinate their actions with each other and with the third countries involved. To this end they can benefit from the experience and capabilities of existing regional organisations.

Marine strategies at regional level

Member States must firstly assess the ecological status of their waters and the impact of human activities. This assessment covers:

  • an analysis of the essential characteristics of these waters (physical and chemical features, types of habitat, animal and plant populations, etc.);
  • an analysis of the main impacts and pressures, particularly as a result of human activities which affect the characteristics of these waters (contamination by toxic products, eutrophication, smothering or sealing of habitats by construction work, introduction of non-indigenous species, physical damage caused by ship anchors, etc.);
  • an economic and social analysis of the use of these waters and the cost of the degradation of the marine environment.

This initial evaluation will help to improve knowledge of European waters, thanks to instruments already used for other policies such as GMES and the programme commonly called INSPIRE.

Member States must then determine the “good ecological status”* of the waters on the basis of criteria such as biodiversity, the presence of non-indigenous species, stock health, the food chain, eutrophication, changes in hydrographic conditions and concentrations of contaminants, the amount of waste and noise pollution.

On the basis of the evaluation of waters, the Member States must define the objectives and indicators to achieve this good ecological status. These objectives must be measurable, consistent within a particular maritime region or subregion and tied to a definite timetable.

Member States draw up a programme of specific measures to achieve these objectives. These measures must give due consideration to their economic and social consequences. Member States must specify the reasons preventing successful completion of any of these measures (action or inaction of another State, forcemajeure, etc.). Before they are implemented, the measures decided by the Member States must be the subject of impact assessments and cost/benefit analyses.

Member States must also establish coordinated monitoring programmes in order to evaluate on a regular basis the status of the waters for which they are responsible and progress with regard to the objectives they have set.

Key elements of the strategies are reviewed every six years and interim reports are drawn up every three years.

A common framework for cooperation

The Commission is the guarantor of the coherence of actions by the Member States; they have to submit the details of the key elements of their strategies at each stage of their formulation. This information is examined by the Commission, which can give the States guidance on how to ensure compliance with the strategy and the coherence of the proposed measures.

Member States who are in the same marine region are required to coordinate their action. To this end the strategy recommends use of the cooperation mechanisms set up by existing international conventions. The international organisations established by these conventions provide their scientific and technical know-how and allow cooperation to be extended to third countries that are parties.

The Community approach also ensures coherence between the sectors and with other European policies, such as the or the , of which this Framework Directive represents the “environment” pillar.


The marine environment is a precious asset. Oceans and seas provide 99% of the available living space on the planet, cover 71% of the earth’s surface and contain 90% of the biosphere and consequently contain more biological diversity than terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. The marine environment is essential to life on earth (particularly as the main source of oxygen) and plays a key role in climate and weather patterns. It is also an important factor in economic prosperity, social wellbeing and quality of life.


Act Entry into force Transposition deadline for Member States Official Journal
Directive 2008/56/EC 15.7.2008 15.7.2010 OJ L 164, 25.6.2008

Water suitable for fish-breeding

To safeguard fish populations from the harmful consequences of pollutant substances discharged into water, this Directive is designed to protect fresh waters in order to safeguard the fish species they support.

Council Directive 2006/44/EC of 6 September 2006 on the quality of fresh waters needing protection or improvement in order to support fish life.


This Directive concerns the protection and/or improvement of the quality of running or standing fresh waters which support or which, if pollution were reduced or eliminated, would become capable of supporting certain fish species.

Waters in natural or artificial fish ponds used for intensive fish-farming are excluded from the scope of the Directive.

Member States are required to designate the fresh waters which are to be considered suitable for fish-breeding. These are subdivided into salmonid * waters and cyprinid * waters.

The Directive lays down the minimum quality criteria to be met by such waters:

  • physical, chemical and microbiological parameters;
  • binding limit values and indicative values for these parameters;
  • minimum frequency of sampling and reference methods of analysis for such waters.

Member States are required to set the values which they will apply to such waters in accordance with the guidelines contained in the Directive. They may set more stringent requirements than those laid down in the Directive.

The Directive lays down the procedure for adapting the methods of analysis and the binding limit values to technical and scientific progress.

Provision is also made for derogation from the Directive owing to special weather or geographical conditions or to the natural enrichment of water with certain substances.

At intervals of three years, the Commission presents a report on the implementation of the Directive. This report is drawn up on the basis of a questionnaire or outline drafted by the Commission in accordance with the procedure laid down in Directive 91/692/EEC.


This Directive replaces and consolidates Directive 78/659/EEC, as amended by Directive 91/692/EEC and Regulation (EC) No 807/2003. It is restricted to formally collecting together the original Directive and its later amendments without changing the basic provisions.

The Framework Directive in the field of water policy provides for the Directive to be repealed on 22 December 2013.

Key terms used in the act
·         Salmonid waters: waters which support or become capable of supporting fish belonging to species such as salmon, trout, grayling or whitefish.

·         Cyprinid waters: waters which support or become capable of supporting fish belonging to the cyprinids or other species such as pike, perch and eel.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 2006/44/EC 14.10.2006 OJ L 264, 25.9.2006

Protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas from bottom fishing

This Regulation ams to eliminate destructive fishing practices which destroy vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas by adopting measures which form part of the framework of recommendations by the General Assembly of the United Nations. This Regulation applies to Community vessels on the high seas in areas which are not regulated by a regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) and which consequently require regulation by the Flag State.

Council Regulation (EC) No 734/2008 of 15 July 2008 on the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas from the adverse impacts of bottom fishing gears.


The scope of this Regulation applies to Community fishing vessels using bottom fishing gears * for their activities on the high seas. Vessels which operate in an area regulated by a Regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) are not subject to this Regulation. It does apply to vessels which carry out activities in an area where an RFMO is in the stages of development and intermediate measures for the protection of the marine environment have been adopted.

To be able to carry out activities with bottom fishing gears in the high seas, Community vessels must obtain a special fishing permit. Applications for special fishing permits must be accompanied by a detailed fishing plan specifying:

  • the area of activity;
  • the targeted species;
  • the type and conditions of use of the gears deployed;
  • a map of the seabed where the fishing activities will be carried out, if necessary.

The permit is issued by the Flag State after they have carried out an impact assessment. This study is based on scientific and technical data relating to the location of vulnerable marine ecosystems * in the area of activity detailed in the fishing plan. It must demonstrate that the fishing activities will not have a significant adverse impact * on the ecosystems in question.

Any changes to the fishing plan must be notified to the competent authority who will examine whether the changes are likely to threaten areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems occur or are likely to occur. The competent authority in the Flag State shall withdraw the special fishing permit if a vessel does not comply with the specified fishing plan.

The principle of precaution applies when the competent authority does not have reliable scientific information on a given area at its disposal. In this case, the use of bottom gears is forbidden. Bottom fishing activities are only authorised when they present no risk of damaging vulnerable marine ecosystems.

When a vessel has an unforeseen encounter with a vulnerable marine ecosystem it must leave the site and refrain from fishing activities in the area. They are only authorised to resume fishing activities in an area foreseen in their fishing plan located a minimum distance of five nautical miles from the site of the encounter. With as little delay as possible, the vessel must inform the competent authorities of their encounter, providing important details such as the nature, location, time, etc. of the encounter.

Member States shall proceed with area closures to fishing with bottom gears when the scientific information confirms the occurrence or likelihood of occurrence of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the area open to fishing. Member States must inform the Commission of any closures. The Commission is then responsible for circulating the notification to all Member States.

In the event of failure of the satellite vessel monitoring system (VMS) fitted on-board a fishing vessel, the master of the vessel must report its geographical location to the Fisheries Monitoring Centre (FMC) in the Flag State every two hours. The vessel is only authorised to return to sea once the competent authority has confirmed that the VMS is functioning perfectly again.

Observers shall monitor the activities of vessels granted a special fishing permit throughout the execution of the fishing plan. During the observation period, the observers must compile information on the catch, changes to the fishing plan, encounters with vulnerable ecosystems, as well as record the depth at which gear is deployed. Observers shall submit a report to the competent authorities in the Member State concerned within twenty days following the end of their mission. A copy of the report shall then be sent to the Commission.


This Regulation forms part of the common fisheries policy and the Union’s environment policy in that it establishes rules which will enable the prevention and cessation of adverse impacts of certain fishing practices on the marine environment.

The Regulation implements the recommendations formulated by the General Assembly of the United Nations (Resolution 61/105 of 8 December 2006) regarding the adoption of measures to eliminate destructive fishing practices.

Key terms of the act
·         Bottom gears: gears deployed in the normal course of fishing operations in contact with the seabed, including bottom trawls, dredges, bottom-set gill nets, bottom-set longlines, pots and traps.

·         Marine ecosystem: a dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their nonliving environment interacting as a functional unit.

·         Vulnerable marine ecosystem: any marine ecosystem whose integrity is threatened by significant adverse impacts resulting from physical contact with bottom gears in the normal course of fishing operations, including, inter alia, reefs, seamounts, hydrothermal vents, cold water corals or cold water sponge beds. The most vulnerable ecosystems are those that are easily disturbed and in addition are very slow to recover, or may never recover.

·         Significant adverse impacts: impacts which compromise ecosystem integrity in a manner that impairs the ability of affected populations to replace themselves and that degrades the long-term natural productivity of habitats, or causes on more than a temporary basis significant loss of species richness, habitat or community types.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition into the Member States Official Journal
Regulation (EC) No 734/2008 31.7.2008 OJ L 201 of 30.7.2008

Quality of shellfish waters

The European Union establishes compulsory quality criteria for Member States’ shellfish waters.


Directive 2006/113/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on the quality required of shellfish waters.


The Directive concerns the quality of shellfish waters, i.e. the waters suitable for the development of shellfish (bivalve and gasteropod molluscs).

It applies to those coastal and brackish waters which need protection or improvement in order to allow shellfish to develop and to contribute to the high quality of shellfish products intended for human consumption.

It is the Member States’ responsibility to designate these waters. The designation may be updated (designation of additional waters) or revised (modification of the designations), provided this does not increase the pollution of coastal or brackish waters. If waters immediately adjacent to borders with neighbouring Member States are designated as shellfish waters, these States must be consulted.

The Directive establishes parameters applicable to designated shellfish waters as well as indicative values, mandatory values, reference methods of analysis and the minimum frequency for taking samples and measures. These parameters are set for pH, temperature, salinity and the presence or concentration of certain substances (dissolved oxygen, hydrocarbons, metals, organohalogenated substances, etc.).

On the basis of these criteria, Member States establish values with which the waters they have designated must comply. As a minimum, these limit values must respect the mandatory values set by the Directive. For metals or organohalogenated substances, these values must respect the emission rules established in line with Directive 2006/11/EC on the discharge of certain substances into the aquatic environment.

Member States must establish programmes allowing them to comply with the limit values they have set within six years of designation.

The competent authorities for each Member State must take samples from the waters to verify their conformity with the criteria set by the Directive. The following proportions of samples must conform to the established values:

  • 100% of the samples for the parameters ‘organohalogenated substances’ and ‘metals’;
  • 95% of the samples for the parameters ‘salinity’ and ‘dissolved oxygen’;
  • 75% of the samples for the other parameters.

In the event of a disaster, special dispensation may be granted concerning the observance of the limit values and the criteria established. In addition, samples may be taken less frequently if the water quality is appreciably higher than it would be if the criteria established in accordance with Community legislation were applied.

In the event of non-compliance with the limit values or the established criteria, the competent authority must establish whether this is the result of chance, a natural phenomenon or pollution and must take appropriate measures. These measures may on no account lead to increased pollution of coastal and brackish waters.


The Directive codifies Directive 79/923/EEC, which it replaces: it is a formal amendment that aims to bring together the original Directive and its subsequent amendments in one single legislative act without altering its fundamental provisions.

Directive 2000/60/EC on water provides for the repeal of the Directive on the quality required of shellfish waters by 2013. This Directive integrates requirements relating to the quality of shellfish waters into its provisions relating to the analysis and protection of hydrographic basins.


Act Entry into force – Date of expiry Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 2006/113/EC 16.1.2007 OJ L 376 of 27.12.2006

Use of alien and locally absent species

The Regulation described below concerns measures intended to limit the environmental risks related to movements of non-native aquatic species. The measures include the requirement to obtain a permit in order to undertake such movement, preventive measures such as quarantine, and monitoring measures.

Council Regulation (EC) No 708/2007 of 11 June 2007 concerning use of alien and locally absent species in aquaculture.

The Regulation aims to create a framework governing aquacultural practices in order to ensure adequate protection of the aquatic environment from the risks associated with the use of non-native species in aquaculture .


The Regulation applies to movements (introduction or translocation) of alien * or locally absent * species for their use in aquaculture in the European Union (EU). The Regulation covers animal and plant species (including single-cell organisms) and parts of those animals or plants. The Regulation applies to all types of aquacultural installation and all types of aquaculture.

The Regulation does not apply:

  • to translocations of organisms within Member States, except if there is a risk to the environment;
  • to pet-shops, garden centres or aquaria where there is no contact with EU waters.

Member States must take all appropriate measures to avoid adverse effects on biodiversity resulting from the movement of aquatic organisms for aquaculture purposes and from the spreading of those organisms.


The Regulation makes any movement of an aquatic organism subject to the issue of a permit by the receiving Member State. An aquacultural operator who applies for such a permit must provide certain information, including the name and characteristics of the organism concerned, the proposed destination and the reason for the movement, the potential impact on the environment and the measures to manage and monitor the movement.

Routine movement

In the case of movement from a source known not to pose a risk to the environment, the competent authority may issue a permit indicating, where applicable, requirements for quarantine * or pilot release *.

Non-routine movement

In the case of non-routine movement, an environmental risk assessment must be carried out. If there is found to be a medium or high risk, the applicant and the administration concerned must examine whether there are procedures or technologies available to reduce the level of risk to low. If the level of risk is reduced to low, the competent authority may issue a permit indicating, where appropriate, requirements for quarantine , pilot release or monitoring

Movements affecting neighbouring Member States

Member States likely to be affected by a movement of marine organisms must be informed and send their comments to the Commission, which will confirm, cancel or amend the permit.


Member States must keep a register of introductions and translocations containing all the information relating to them. The registers are to be made available to the public.


Invasive alien species are one of the key causes of loss in biodiversity for the EU and the world at large, either by genetic change, deterioration or modification of habitats, spreading pathogenic agents and parasites, or by replacing native species in the ecological niche which they occupy. This environmental impact has major economic and social repercussions.

The voluntary alien species rules originating from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the European Inland Fisheries Advisory Commission (EIFAC) are made compulsory in the European Union by the Regulation.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Regulation (EC) No 708/2007 18.7.2007 OJ L 168 of 28.6.2007



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