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Oceans and fisheries
News announcement31 March 2021Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries3 min read

31 March 2021: D-Day for Maritime Spatial Planning in Europe!

Ocean wave ©EpicStockMedia /
Ocean wave ©EpicStockMedia /

Competition for maritime space. To some, it could invoke references to the 17th century Anglo-Dutch wars, fighting for control over trade routes, but in fact it is a very topical – though much more civilized – affair today.

As we are developing the blue economy with not just fisheries and trade, but also tourism, aquaculture, offshore energy, blue biotechnology or indeed marine environment protection, we need to find an effective, sustainable and safe way to coordinate all those activities. Not only within a countries’ own coastal areas, but across sea basins. And not just today, but over the next decades.

Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) does exactly that. It makes sure that conflicts between various sectors are not just solved, but prevented. Where to place underwater cables without hindering shipping, for example? Or how to develop large wind parks while keeping fishing activities profitable? It is a complex puzzle, but with good planning, there is a solution to satisfy everyone!

Introduced in European legislation since 2014, MSP is gradually being rolled out across EU member states with support from the EU. Today, 31 March 2021, is the deadline for member states to develop their national MSP plans and share it, within 3 months, with the Commission. By next year, a report will be published on the state of play.

© Federal Public Service (SPF) Public Health, Safety of the Food Chain and Environment.
Federal Public Service (SPF) Public Health, Safety of the Food Chain and Environment.

© Federal Public Service (SPF) Public Health, Safety of the Food Chain and Environment.
Belgium was quick to adopt the MSP concept. Their action plan can be found here (FRNL).

A lot has happened since the creation of the EU MSP policy. An Assistance Mechanism was launched in 2016 to provide administrative and technical support to EU countries in implementing the MSP legislation. The European MSP platform was set up, featuring information on existing MSP practices, processes and projects, a question and answer service, technical studies and a focal point service for EU countries. And several EU-funded projects have been rolled out to facilitate cooperation across sectors and countries.

The EU has become the undisputed leader on MSP worldwide, and promotes the practice with third countries, for example through the International MSP Forum. Together with UNESCO-IOC, it has set up #MSPGlobal, which is expected to triple the area of territorial waters that benefit from an effectively implemented MSP system.

The key to the success of EU maritime spatial planning is that it takes a holistic approach. Therefore, quite a-typical for EU law, the legal basis of the EU MSP Directive is not only the common fisheries policy, or environment, or transport policy, but all of that and more. This may sound “legalese”, but it is not. It shows that all of those areas are equally important and their interests need to converge. And talking about laws, did you know that the MSP Directive is the only piece of EU legislation for which a game has ever been developed?

Today we want to highlight a few interesting projects and sources of information. Take the opportunity to share your efforts on social media, tagging @EU_MARE on Twitter and EUMaritimeFish on Facebook!

Must-reads and best practice projects

The EU Atlas of the Sea has a map with available MSP plans for the EU and projects

Communicating MSP is a smart, interactive brochure from the MSP Platform with excellent video material

EMODnet, the European Marine Observation and Data network, created a video on data for MSP

MSP Global features policy briefs on a range of issues including climate change, ocean governance and the sustainable blue economy

MarSP intends to reinforce MSP processes in the three EU Macaronesian Archipelagos - Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands.

In the Baltic SCOPE project, authorities and Regional Sea Organisations in the Baltic Sea look for solutions to transboundary issues and improve the Maritime Spatial Planning processes. They also have an interesting collection of maps.


Publication date
31 March 2021
Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries