The EU Commission’s proposal for deep sea catch limits in 2011 and 2012 allows for business as usual, in spite of clear scientific evidence that all of these species are outside "safe biological limits" and further threatened by discarding, misreporting and non-reporting by EU fishing fleets.

The EU Commission’s proposal for deep sea catch limits in 2011 and 2012 allows for business as usual, in spite of clear scientific evidence that all of these species are outside "safe biological limits" and further threatened by discarding, misreporting and non-reporting by EU fishing fleets.

The proposal published last week states that "there are insufficient data to demonstrate the sustainability of the fisheries", acknowledging the conclusions of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the Commission’s most common independent scientific advisors. In 2009, the EU committed itself to the United Nations General Assembly to protect deep sea life from overfishing and to prohibit deep sea fisheries unless the long-term sustainability of deep sea fish stocks, including by-catch species, can be ensured.

This commitment was turned upside down in the press release from the Commission that said that “no increases” in Total Allowable Catches (TACs) had been “granted” in EU waters and the North-East Atlantic “until positive trends in the abundance of deep sea stocks have been properly identified”. In contrast of international commitments, the Commission proposal strives for “gradual adjustment and limitation of annual changes in fisheries possibilities” by introducing TACs that reflect business as usual, plus or minus 15%.

Although the Commission recognizes the problems in deep sea fisheries of by-catches and impacts on deep sea ecosystems such as cold coral reefs, it does not propose measures to address these problem but relies on voluntary measures by EU Member States.

A more positive aspect in the Commission proposal is the prohibition of catches of most deep sea shark species, some of which are characterized as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. However, the net effect of these measures will be limited because these species are caught routinely as by-catch in other deep sea fisheries which will only be slightly restricted by the proposed catch limits. Eliminating the quotas for sharks will therefore not prevent the catch of deep sea sharks, it will only make it illegal to keep the sharks onboard the vessels and bring them into port.

Whether EU Fisheries Ministers take their international commitments more serious than the Commission will become clear in November or December, when the Fisheries Council is expected to take the final decision on the 2011-2012 deep sea catch quotas.


The ‘Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing for 2011 and 2012 the fishing opportunities for EU vessels for certain deep-sea fish stocks’ and its press release are available at:

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