London, 17th November 2006. After a week of negotiations, the inter-governmental commission responsible for managing deep-water fishing in the North East Atlantic made some progress on improving the protection of deep-water fish and corals, but allowed the tougher decisions to be hijacked by the short-term fisheries interests of isolated Contracting Parties.

London, 17th November 2006. After a week of negotiations, the inter-governmental commission responsible for managing deep-water fishing in the North East Atlantic made some progress on improving the protection of deep-water fish and corals, but allowed the tougher decisions to be hijacked by the short-term fisheries interests of isolated Contracting Parties.

The meeting considered a number of recommendations from its own working groups:

  • To stop the expansion of destructive deep-water fisheries into new previously un-fished areas.
  • To end fishing on highly vulnerable and heavily depleted stocks of Orange Roughy.
  • To close to bottom trawling two areas - Hatton and Rockall Banks - where fragile cold-water coral reefs are known to exist.

In all three cases the recommendations were based on scientific advice from ICES, the internationally recognised authority on the scientific aspects of fisheries management, but were refused or weakened by the meeting. The meeting also failed to act on ICES advice to stop fishing for blue ling and deep-water sharks and to dramatically scale-down fishing activity on all other deep-water stocks in the NEAFC area.

On the first recommendation, the meeting refused to stop the expansion of deepwater fisheries into new areas, and only agreed to reduce current levels of overall fishing effort by a token 5 %. This is something of a sham considering reliable fishing effort data is rarely provided, and member states appear able to pick and choose their reference levels.

In the case of Orange Roughy, the Faroe Islands refused to agree to a prohibition, despite having only one boat that targets the species. Instead they chose short-term self-interest, with a view to mining the stocks of this incredibly vulnerable species in the future. The meeting therefore agreed to an interim suspension of the fishery (while it is out of season anyway) until an Extraordinary Meeting of NEAFC in June 2007 revisits the issue.

A similarly selfish refusal by Russia, who failed to agree with the EU proposal for closure of the coral-rich south west Rockall Bank where they fish intensively, led the meeting to leave that area open for further destruction and only close the other proposed areas. Although some steps have been made in the right direction, it bodes very badly for NEAFC’s future ability to offer real protection for vulnerable deep-water fish and corals if it’s decision-making process can be hijacked in this way.

Activities at NEAFC will be watched carefully by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, which is currently negotiating global measures to protect deep-water habitats from bottom trawling. The assumption at the UN is that regional fisheries management authorities are best placed to protect vulnerable habitats from bottom trawling, but NEAFC has shown yet again that it lacks both the political will and the institutional arrangements necessary to fully protect deep-water stocks and the wider environment.

In a related development the EU Fisheries Council will meet next week to negotiate the 2007 and 2008 Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for deep-water fisheries in European waters. The outcome of NEAFC’s Annual Meeting is disappointing, but now the EU must show that they at least are capable of providing real protection for the deep-sea, one of the richest but most vulnerable environments on the planet.

Joint MCS/Seas At Risk press release on the outcome of the 2006 NEAFC Annual Meeting (17/11/06).

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