Implementing the Marine Strategy Framework Directive

By July of this year, all EU states must have put in place a monitoring programme as part of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive’s requirements for achieving Good Environmental Status by 2020. In order for the UK to do this, Defra have recently opened up a new consultation which the BES is hoping to respond to.

Adopted in 2008, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) was put in place to address growing concerns that the EU marine environment was being degraded. As the world’s largest marine territory, EU waters sustain resources that make both significant economic and social contributions to both member and non-member states. However, these resources and the systems from which they are obtained are overexploited and damaged. The overarching objective of the Directive is for member states to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) of marine waters by 2020, through steps such as protecting the marine environment, preventing its deterioration and restoring it where practical.

Although there was some contention as to what GES actually stands for when the Directive was initially announced, the Directive states it as ‘The environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive.’  11 descriptors underpin GES and include biological diversity, non-indigenous species, human induced eutrophication  and marine food webs. To achieve GES, member states are required to take an ecosystem based approach to their management and planning and thus coordinate plans with other states within MSFD marine regions.

This year is a significant point in the Directive’s timeline as it requires all member states to have put in place a monitoring programme by July. The role of monitoring programme, while not sounding ground breaking, is to ensure that progress towards GES is achieved. It will also help to encourage decisions made in regards to the Directive to be a more flexible and evidence based as well as generate and increase knowledge bases on a variety of marine issues.  Most importantly, the monitoring programme forms a basis to help deliver the next part of the Directive which requires states to have developed specific actions to put in place to achieve GES.

In regards to the UK, the MSFD was transposed into UK law in 2010 through the Marine Strategy. The first phase of this strategy saw one of the most comprehensive reviews of the state of the UK’s seas published in 2012. Now, as part of the MSFD requirements, the UK has released its plans for the monitoring programmes that it will put in place to track the progress of the UK in meeting GES by 2020. The consultation involves all devolved administrations within the UK and many of the programmes proposed take advantage of existing programmes already in place, such as the annual English Beam Trawl Survey. The consultation covers what monitoring programmes will be used, how the proposed programme will meet the directives requirements and any issues or knowledge gaps that could hinder the process.

Before the consultation closes in early April, the BES is starting to put together a response. We will be focusing most of our efforts on just four of the 11 descriptors laid out which are listed below, although if you have expertise in another descriptor area your inputs will be welcomed.

1)       Biological diversity is maintained. The quality and occurrence of habitats and the distribution and abundance of species are in line with prevailing physiographic, geographic and climatic conditions.

2)       Non-indigenous species (NIS) introduced by human activities are at levels that do not adversely alter the ecosystems.

3)       Populations of all commercially exploited fish and shellfish are within safe biological limits, exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock.

4)       All elements of the marine food webs, to the extent that they are known, occur at normal abundance and diversity and levels capable of ensuring the long-term abundance of the species and the retention of their full reproductive capacity

For each descriptor there are four questions that we will address. These can be found within the consultation document. If you would like to provide input into our response, then we welcome feedback by Monday 17 February to Please note that it is important that the feedback you provide is evidence based e.g. use published research (where this is not possible please use and describe your knowledge/experience). Please do not feel you have to answer every question, or answer in full – even just brief responses with links to direct evidence will help us to generate a response.