The Fisheries Committee voted on 4th November on the much delayed report revising the management regime for deep sea fisheries in the North-East Atlantic. The Committee disappointed the environmental community by failing to agree on measures to phase-out the most destructive fishing activities.

The Fisheries Committee voted on 4th November on the much delayed report revising the management regime for deep sea fisheries in the North-East Atlantic. The Committee disappointed the environmental community by failing to agree on measures to phase-out the most destructive fishing activities.

Overall, the Committee agreed on several measures that will contribute to the protection of deep sea ecosystems and towards the sustainable exploitation of deep sea fish populations.

Whether these measures will finally be put into place depends on the Parliament’s plenary vote in December this year and on the Council, which so far has refused to start discussing the topic. Hopefully a new regulation will be agreed upon through co-legislation before the end of activities of the current Parliament in May 2014.

The existing legislation dates back to 2002 and is no longer up to date with the commitments made by the EU to implement a series of UN resolutions on deep-sea fisheries management.

“The measures agreed in the Fisheries Committee fall short of what is needed to sufficiently protect deep sea ecosystems and ensure sustainable deep sea fisheries”, said Dr Monica Verbeek, Executive Director of Seas At Risk. “Now the Parliament’s plenary has the chance to strengthen the file, and the Council also needs to start discussions after having avoided addressing the topic for too long”.

The definition of ‘targeted deep sea bottom fisheries’ was revised by the Committee to include two limits for catching deep sea species as well as a depth limit. Any vessel catching more than 15% per day (which is a higher threshold than the 10% in the Commission proposal) or 8% per trip, and any fishing activity with bottom gears below 600m, will be subject to the agreed measures of the future access regime. Still, how the agreed percentages can be monitored remains to be seen.

The Committee failed to agree on a phase-out for deep sea bottom trawling and gillnetting as the Commission had proposed in July 2012. This seriously weakens the impact of the regulation, as it ignores clear scientific evidence that these gears are among the most destructive for deep sea ecosystems and the sustainability of deep sea fish stocks. Instead, the regulation is supposed to be reviewed four years after coming into force and, subject to the results of the evaluation, the Commission will be entitled to propose once again the phase-out of bottom trawling and gillnetting. Even if such a phase-out is agreed in future, the implementation of related measures will suffer at the least an additional seven years delay.

On the management of deep sea fisheries, the committee followed the objectives of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy that was agreed earlier this year. In particular, it adopted the requirement to set Total Allowable Catches for deep sea species following Maximum Sustainable Yield and also the minimisation of by-catch. Unfortunately, the agreement did not recognise the particular situation with regard to data-scarcity of deep sea stocks.

On the positive side, the Committee’s report makes impact assessments mandatory for new and existing fisheries, as NGOs have demanded in the past. Additionally, the Committee agreed to include requirements for the closure of areas to bottom fishing where Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems are known or likely to occur. All these additions indicate a concrete willingness of the EU institutions to integrate international agreements and UN resolutions into European law.

The Parliament’s plenary is foreseen to vote on this issue in December, provided that no further delays are introduced as it happened in the past with the Fisheries Committee. Unfortunately, under the Lithuanian presidency the Council has not opened the discussion in its working groups yet.


Image credit: Fishing boat © EnjoyLife For more information, check the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition website