NEAFC Protects Deep Sea Sharks but Falls Short for Other Species and Habitat

Date: November 11, 2011

London – The 30th annual meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) ended today, with countries agreeing to prohibit fishing for deep-sea sharks but failing to agree on significant, additional measures to safeguard vulnerable deep-sea species and ecosystems. While NEAFC has made considerable progress since 2006 in closing areas on the high seas south of Iceland to bottom fishing, it is has yet to establish effective regulations to ensure sustainable deep-sea fisheries.

“While we commend NEAFC for prohibiting fishing for deep-sea sharks, we are disappointed that additional measures were not adopted to protect other deep-sea species and ecosystems that continue to be seriously threatened by deep-sea bottom fishing,” said Andrea Kavanagh, director of deep-sea conservation for the Pew Environment Group.

The NEAFC meeting took place two months after the United Nations General Assembly began debating actions taken by NEAFC and other regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) to protect the deep sea. The UN adopted a series of resolutions over the past seven years, committing high-seas fishing countries and RFMOs to urgently protect such species and ecosystems from the harmful impacts of deep-sea fishing, in particular bottom trawl fishing.

This week, the European Union put forward proposals to prohibit fishing for orange roughy and 17 species of deep-sea sharks.  The proposal to prohibit fisheries targeting deep-sea sharks, amongst the most vulnerable deep-sea species, was adopted.  The proposal to ban fishing for orange roughy, based on a recommendation from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, was supported by Iceland and Norway, but was not adopted by NEAFC because of opposition from Denmark (the Faroe Islands) and Russian.

“We are disappointed that NEAFC did not do more this year to protect deep-sea ecosystems and sustainably manage deep-sea fisheries, although we were pleased that the meeting this year was much more open to NGO participation than in the past,” said Matthew Gianni, policy adviser for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.

NEAFC will conduct a review of its regulations on deep-sea fishing in 2012. A recent report by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) indicated substantial shortfalls in NEAFC regulations on deep-sea fisheries. “We urge NEAFC to ensure that the regulations are revised next year to ensure full implementation of the UNGA resolutions,” said Arni Finnission, Iceland Nature Conservation Association.

The Pew Environment Group, Iceland Nature Conservation Association and the DSCC urge NEAFC to require that all deep-sea bottom fishing be subject to prior environmental impact assessments and that deep-sea fish species, including those that aren’t of commercial value but are caught as “bycatch”, are conserved.