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Sustainable Fishing in the Italian MPAs: An Introduction to Case Study 4

Sustainable fishing | Italian MPAs | PERMAGOV

European consumers depend on seafood as an important source of nutritious food with a low climate impact compared to many other animal proteins. With imports from outside the EU currently providing 55% of the consumed seafood, further sustainable development of the fishing sector plays an important role in increased European food security and climate ambitions, employment and economic activity. This is especially true for the Mediterranean countries, which have one of the highest fish consumption rates in the EU. About 86% of the fishing boats in the Mediterranean region are artisanal and/or small-scale, and are considered to have lower impact on habitats and lower levels of discarding than industrial fishing.

Nevertheless, the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the region is underperforming. While 9.68% of the marine area is designated for MPA, only 1.27% of the area has effectively implemented management plans. However measured, this is far below the ambitions of the EU.

This case focuses on Italy where current projects (e.g. of the network of Mediterranean Marine Protected Area managers, or MedPAN) aim to stimulate co-management of MPAs in territorial waters through engagement with small-scale and artisanal fishers. In Italy, MedPAN's member WWF Italy focuses its collaboration efforts not merely on supporting the increase of MPAs effectiveness but also on recognizing and actively supporting sustainable fishing activities that contribute to seafood consumption by local communities, tourists and in the domestic market through short supply chains. The case study feeds into the current shift in research focus from the traditional, relatively narrow focus on ‘how much to fish’ to ‘how and where to fish’, and the social implications of fisheries management measures for small-scale fisheries.

MPA’s effective implementation in Italy is held back by a lack of coordination between different administrative units (horizontal fragmentation). Although the Common Fisheries Policy recognises the specific position of small-scale fisheries, many policies at EU and national levels do not clearly differentiate between industrial, small-scale, and artisanal fisheries, which are important differences in the Mediterranean context (bounded rationality). The lack of monitoring and enforcement is problematic and rooted in limited data collection and surveillance capacity. In addition, current requirements for reporting on MPA effectiveness are very general and not performance-based (implementation challenge). Voluntary participation of fishers in co-management of MPAs is not formally recognized by state agencies, leading to trust issues and reduced incentive to engage in co-management (formal–informal dynamics).


Geographically this case focuses on Italy. Administratively this means that the main focus is on Italian actors, from state, market (fisheries and seafood value chain) and civil society, ranging from the local to the national level. However, both government and eNGOs, like WWF Italy, collaborate on a regional sea level, such as with the Barcelona Convention. Thematic scope focuses on small-scale fisheries within MPAs.


The case study will test several assumptions, namely:

  • MPAs can be both an instrument to support as well as a threat to small-scale and artisanal fisheries and associated coastal communities

  • The lack of cooperation, in Italy, between authorities responsible for fisheries and environment is a barrier to the development of shared strategies between fishers and NGOs. This leads to a lack of trust and dampens hopes among stakeholders that environmental authorities will accept fisheries management plans developed for MPAs

  • Surveillance in MPAs is underfunded due limited recognition of the need for surveillance in protected areas

  • More formalised collaboration structures will lead to an increase in political will, which is currently missing

  • Many fishermen are of a relatively old age, which might hinder the adoption of possible technological innovations, such as e-governance tools

  • MPAs lack the capacity in terms of staff and resources to increase their effectiveness and improve engagement with fishers

Research questions

  • How can small scale fisheries management in MPAs be improved through co-management mechanisms and the support of improved data systems and digital tools for fisheries sustainability and biodiversity conservation?

  • Which institutional barriers are embedded within the MPA design in Italy, and how does the interplay of institutional barriers, formal and informal collaborations between eNGOs, fishers, MPAs and other stakeholders, including local authorities, as well as e-governance tools, enable and constrain governance arrangements in the implementation and management of MPAs in Italy, and the achievement of EU Green Deal objectives more broadly?

  • How does the dynamic within and between Government, Ministries, regional and local authorities, as well as with non-state actors in MPAs - all of whom have a stake in the implementation of EU marine policies - enable or constrain the achievement of the EU Green Deal objectives for the regime complex of Marine Life?

  • How has the concept of e-governance been applied in MPA management, as well as fisheries management, especially when compared with traditional e-government areas like public services, in terms of the underlying digital tools and interventions used, data used, end users, and overall effectiveness?

  • Which transversal lessons can be learned from Case Study 4 and applied beyond the scale and lifetime of the project?

Reflecting on the last question about results’ transferability, lessons from the Italian context might directly inform MPA developments in other Mediterranean countries, as well as more broadly across the EU. Further, given the involvement of AAU in PERMAGOV, there is considerable potential for comparison and knowledge transfer with Denmark. Denmark also aims to balance sustainable production with increasing protection while also considering small-scale, low-impact fisheries and the influence on coastal communities and local consumption of seafood. In Denmark, cooperation over MPAs between the dominant fisheries organisations and environmental NGOs is rather limited. We hope that as a result of Case Study 4, lessons on how to improve it can be learned from Italy.

PERMAGOV partners

The case study is managed by experts from Wageningen University in cooperation with WWF Italy, an end user in the project. By working on this case study, WWF Italy will learn how different EU-level actions can influence MPA implementation and management in Italy, and how to promote better alignment of environmental and fisheries policies at a national level.

The results will help to formalise co-management tables that were recently set up in some Italian MPAs with the aim of improving collaboration between local and national stakeholders, and will help to identify solutions for small-scale fisheries (SSF) sustainability, including seafood traceability. Among other benefits is enhanced surveillance aimed at combating illegal activities, including (over)fishing, improved monitoring of biodiversity and fisheries in MPAs achieved through better national alignment of monitoring efforts, greater support to the socio-economic viability of SSF in MPAs, and improved public awareness of the complex reality of SSF and of MPAs importance for ecosystem services conservation.

Connections with other case studies

  • Seabed Integrity in the Baltic Sea (Case Study 3): Case studies 3 and 4 are affected by EU nature conservation policies, and both cases also address bottom trawling and other fishing activities that might impact nature protection

  • Marine Litter in the Mediterranean (Case Study 9): This case on marine litter focuses on litter from fisheries and lost cargo in the Mediterranean. Fisheries are an important source of marine litter but fishers can also act as stewards of the sea and help with clean-up efforts if the right incentives and infrastructure are in place. Due to the huge tourism potential, marine litter must be considered of high importance to MPAs

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PERMAGOV has received funding from the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme HORIZON-CL6-2022-GOVERNANCE-01-03 under grant agreement No 101086297, and by UK Research and Innovation under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee grant numbers 10045993, 10062097, 101086297.

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