Commission Proposal for North Atlantic Fisheries Condemned

Date: October 6, 2010

Allowances for deep-sea bottom fishing proposed today by the European Commission will lead to continued depletion and destruction of Northeast Atlantic fish stocks and should be abandoned, according to an international alliance of more than 60 organizations.

“Today’s action flies in the face of the European Union’s commitment to the United Nations to protect deep-sea life from overfishing,” said Matthew Gianni, political and policy advisor for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC). “It is clear the Commission wants to maintain the stability of the deep-sea fishing industry at the expense of the integrity of fish stocks and other vulnerable deep-sea species.”

Every two years the European Union decides on new catch limits for commercial fishing in the deep waters of the Northeast Atlantic, based on a proposal from the Commission. The proposal released today recommends continued fishing for deep-sea species in spite of clear scientific evidence from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) that all of these species are outside “safe biological limits” and further threatened by discarding, misreporting and non-reporting by EU fishing fleets. Ironically, a review of these same fisheries by the Commission in 2007 concluded that: “many deep-sea stocks have such low productivity that sustainable levels of exploitation are probably too low to support an economically viable fishery” and “the measures currently in force have been too poorly implemented to protect deep-sea stocks.”

The DSCC has repeatedly called on the Commission to recommend temporarily halting deep-sea bottom fishing in the North Atlantic until scientists have sufficient understanding of the biology of deep-sea fish stocks and ecosystems to determine what constitutes sustainable levels of fishing. [Links to series of joint NGO submissions to the European Commission May-September 2010: September | July | June]

The proposal released today by the Commission reinforces the ICES conclusions, stating that scientists are unable to assess the status of the stocks and that for all of the stocks covered by the proposal “there are insufficient data to demonstrate the sustainability of the fisheries”. The Commission proposal also recognizes that deep-sea fisheries are mixed species fisheries, that bycatch of vulnerable and unregulated deep-sea species will occur and vulnerable deep-sea marine habitats will be impacted by continued deep-sea bottom fishing.

Nonetheless, the Commission responds by stating that: “The principle of gradual adjustment and limitation of annual changes in fishery possibilities has been incorporated into the proposal. No changes are proposed that would show an annual increase or decrease of fishing opportunities of more than 15% vis-à-vis the status quo situation of 2010.” In other words, business as usual, plus or minus 15%.

On the issue of bycatch, the Commission merely calls for voluntary measures by EU Member States: “The Commission is aware of the problem of by-catches in mixed fisheries and encourages Member States and fishing undertakings to develop fishing practices that reduce by-catches.” And on discards and the protection of vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems such as cold-water corals, the Commission offers the opinion that the management of deep-sea fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic “might thus focus in the future on keeping the fisheries stable, where possible, and develop technical measures and encourage fishing strategies that mitigate negative effects on vulnerable marine ecosystems and reduce discards.”

On a more positive note, the Commission proposal does eliminate quotas for most species of deep-sea sharks. However, even this will be of limited value. The deep-sea fisheries that would be permitted under the proposal will inevitably lead to the continued catch of deep-sea sharks. At least three species, the leafscale gulper shark, gulper sharks, and the Portuguese spiny dogfish, which are routinely caught in deep-sea bottom trawl fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic, are listed as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Eliminating the quotas for sharks will 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.

The Commission asserts that the proposal released today is in line with UN General Assembly resolution 64/72, adopted in 2009, along with other international agreements which call on all nations to sustainably manage deep-sea fisheries.

“Who are they trying to fool? The UN resolution clearly states that unless the long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish stocks, including bycatch species, can be ensured and the fisheries can be managed to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, countries will prohibit deep-sea fisheries – full stop” added Gianni. “This proposal would essentially allow business as usual with very limited reductions in quotas in some cases. We can only hope that EU Member States will take the commitment made by the EU before the UN General Assembly seriously, something the Commission apparently does not”.

The European Council of Fisheries Ministers will make a final decision on fishing limits at a meeting of Fisheries Council in either late November or December 2010.

Background notes:

The Commission proposal released today: “Proposal for a COUNCIL REGULATION fixing for 2011 and 2012 the fishing opportunities for EU vessels for certain deep-sea fish stocks” can be found on the DG Mare website at

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition is an international alliance of more than 60 organizations calling for full implementation of a UN resolution to manage bottom fishing in the deep oceans, in order to protect the rich, unique but fragile pockets of life in the deep seas.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 64/72 on protection of deep sea fisheries (paragraphs 119 and 120) was adopted in December 2009 (http://daccess-dds

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is an intergovernmental organization which provides scientific advice on the status and management of deep-sea fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic to the European Commission, European Union countries and other countries in the North Atlantic (

The “deep sea” is defined by ICES as waters below 400 meters. Many of the species found in the deep sea are highly vulnerable to over-exploitation because they are long-lived, slow-growing and late in reaching maturity.

For further information please contact:

Matt Gianni + 31 646 16 88 99
Mirella von Lindenfels + 44 7717 844 352