EU Fisheries Ministers deep-six protection of the deep-sea

Date: November 30, 2010

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition is deeply disappointed with the decision made by the European Union’s Council of Fisheries Ministers late last night to set Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for deep-sea fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic in contravention of United Nations General Assembly resolutions.

The most recent UN General Assembly resolution, adopted in 2009, commits the EU to implement a set of management measures for deep-sea fisheries ‘to ensure the long-term sustainability of deep sea fish stocks and non-target species, and the rebuilding of depleted stocks’ and ‘not to authorize bottom fishing activities until such measures have been adopted and implemented’. The resolution also commits the EU ‘to ensure that vessels do not engage in bottom fishing until’ impact assessments of bottom fisheries have been carried out to determine whether deep-sea ecosystems will be harmed by bottom fishing.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, the main scientific advisory body for Northeast Atlantic fisheries, has advised that there is insufficient scientific information to manage deep-sea fisheries to ensure the long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish stocks. ICES also considers the catch of all deep-sea species in the region to be ‘outside safe biological limits’ and has raised concerns over high levels of bycatch and discards (up to 50%) and mis-reporting and non-reporting of deep-sea catches.

No impact assessments have yet been conducted for the EU’s deep-sea bottom fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic. Deep-sea bottom trawl fishing, conducted mainly by Spanish and French fleets in the Northeast Atlantic, is widely recognized by ICES and other scientific bodies to be the most serious threat to deep-sea ecosystems such as cold-water coral reefs found throughout the Northeast Atlantic.

In spite of the commitment made by the EU to the United Nations General Assembly, the Council decided to maintain the 2011 and 2012 quotas for most deep-sea stocks at the same levels as in 2010. The Council did agree to reduce the quotas for several stocks of roundnose grenadier and black scabbardfish by 10-25 % over the next two years and to phase out a bycatch allowance for deep-sea sharks. For all practical purposes however, the Council decision essentially allows EU fleets to continue to fish similar amounts of deep-sea species as in 2010, with the exception of deep-sea sharks. Moreover, the Council only agreed to set quotas for 24 deep-sea species, with no limits in place for the catch of some 20-40 additional species known or likely to be caught in the Northeast Atlantic deep-sea fisheries.

“If the EU’s Fisheries Ministers had been serious about delivering on their UN commitments, they would have agreed to phase out deep-sea fisheries unless or until these fisheries are managed sustainably, environmental impact assessments have been conducted, and deep-sea ecosystems are protected” said Matthew Gianni, Political and Policy Advisor of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “Instead, it’s largely business as usual for the EU’s deep-sea fleets”.

“The decision by the European Council calls into question the credibility of the commitments made by France, Spain and other EU countries regarding the upcoming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, the commitment to science based fisheries management, applying the precautionary and ecosystem approaches to fisheries management, as well as compliance with the UN General Assembly resolutions and international law.”

In 2011, the UN General Assembly will review the actions taken by EU and other high seas fishing nations to implement the 2009 resolution.