Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD)

The MSFD aims to protect the marine environment across Europe while allowing the continuation of sustainable uses of the sea. It requires EU Member States (MS) to establish national marine strategies to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) in their marine waters by 2020.


GES is determined at the level of the marine region or sub-region on the basis of eleven qualitative descriptors. These relate to biological diversity, non-indigenous species, commercially exploited fish and shellfish, food webs, human-induced eutrophication, sea floor integrity, hydrographical conditions, contaminants, contaminants in fish and other seafood, marine litter and introduction of energy (including underwater noise). It is the responsibility of MS to identify ways of measuring each descriptor and determining a baseline, targets and indicators for each descriptor.

The MSFD mainly applies to marine waters and may influence activities such as navigation dredging and new construction. It is possible that Member States will require consideration of MSFD as part of Environmental Impact Assessments for large projects thereby forming part of the consenting process potentially including mitigating measures and monitoring programmes.


The key requirements of the Directive, which apply on a six yearly cyclical basis, are:

If it is likely that if GES cannot be met in a given location in one six year cycle, measures will be put in place to achieve GES within the next ‘round’.


The MSFD does not seek to replicate existing legislation rather to build upon it and fill in any gaps that may exist. It will not, for example, seek to replicate the efforts of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) or the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) or indeed to undermine any regulations put in place by the Internatioanl Maritime Organization (IMO).


Areas of interest for recreational boating are underwater noise, marine litter, non-indigenous species, human-induced eutrophication, concentrations of contaminants and possibly biodiversity (as it is linked to all 10 other descriptors). 


MSFD (in English) - the descriptors are provided in Annex I of the document. 

The Directive is published in many other languages

Water Framework Directive (WFD)

The EU Water Framework Directive 2000 (WFD) was transposed into law in EU Member States at the end of 2003 establishing a holistic and integrated approach for managing the water environment across Europe. The Directive requires measures to be taken to encourage the sustainable use of water and to protect and improve rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters with the aim of achieving good ecological and chemical status. The WFD can have significant implications for recreational boating, both for ongoing activities such as dredging and disposal, and for new development proposals.

The WFD calls for a management plan to be developed for each river basin district. Following several years of preparatory work, the first WFD river basin management plans were published in most Member States between end 2009 and mid-2010. These plans set out the ‘programmes of measures’ which are required to achieve good ecological and chemical status in water bodies ‘at risk’ of failing to meet these targets. The first Programme of Measures to achieve good status (or potential) had to be in place by 2012 with the intention of achieving the objectives by 2015. Progress with WFD implementation is reviewed on a six-yearly basis and there are two further WFD planning cycles – up to 2021 and 2027.

Now in the second round, many River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) contain fundamental changes when compared to the first cycle Plans. Additional data collected over the first planning cycle identified failures in water bodies previously thought to be at good status and the revisions made to some environmental quality standards led to changes in chemical status. As a result, many new measures are expected in the second round RBMPs. Some of these measures may need to be delivered by navigation-related organisations; others could potentially affect navigation activities or assets.

Links between WFD and MSFD

MSFD applies to marine waters i.e. the waters, the seabed and subsoil on the seaward side of the baseline from which the extent of territorial waters is measured. MSFD therefore applies to coastal waters as defined by the WFD and therefore there is overlap, but MSFD only applies for the practical aspects of environmental status that are not already addressed through the WFD. The scope of MSFD is broader than that of the WFD, covering a greater range of biodiversity components and indicators such as marine mammals and seabirds. In other words, where both directives apply in coastal waters, the MSFD covers those aspects of good environmental status not covered by the WFD such as litter, noise and marine mammals.

The MSFD should therefore make as much use as possible of existing measures and agreements within the WFD because many of the measures to meet the objectives of the WFD will also deliver MSFD targets. This is of particular relevance to the contaminants descriptor where source control in riverine and coastal waters may have significant positive consequences for marine waters. The implications of the extensive geographical overlap with the WFD are also relevant for several other descriptors (e.g. biodiversity, eutrophication, hydrographical conditions).

It is important for stakeholders interested in coastal waters to engage in both the MSFD and the RBMP consultations to help to ensure measures are aligned and complementary.

Navigation Task Group (NAVI)

NAVI is chaired and hosted by PIANC. It is a group of navigational bodies which shared the workload in relation to the WFD and the MSFD. Information about NAVI's aims and objectives can be found on the PIANC website.