Borders at sea are difficult to define; there is free passage for ships, fishing vessels from other countries have access to our waters and vice versa, pollution knows no borders, etc. This is why protection of the marine environment is the result principally of international cooperation and our national legislation has its origins in international agreements.
The most important, and often binding, agreements for us have been made in the following fora :
- The European Commission, which gave rise to the Habitats Directive, the Birds Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
- The Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North-East Atlantic, and in particular Annex V of the Convention on the protection and conservation of the ecosystems and biological quality of the marine environment.
- The ASCOBANS Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans.
These conventions resulted in specific national legislation for the protection of the marine environment, with the Act of 20 January 1999 for the protection of the marine environment in sea areas under Belgian jurisdiction serving as the basis. A Royal Decree implementing this act was adopted for the protection of various animal species (RD of 21 December 2001). As a result, all cetaceans, seabirds and a number of fish species such as the sturgeon received better protection. The RD included procedures for reporting fish catches and the landing of marine mammals and protected fish species. In accordance with the Birds and Habitats Directives, areas were designated as of importance for specific species of bird and habitats (RD of 14 October 2005, RD of 5 March 2006 and 16 October 2012). These areas form part of the European Natura 2000 network of protected areas. Certain activities in these areas are limited and specific measures for better protection of birds and the specific habitats of certain species are being further developed.