Key Atlantic Fisheries Body Falls Short in Protecting the Deep Sea

Date: November 16, 2012

Due to the sheer complexity of managing deep-sea fisheries NEAFC’s five members – the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Russia and Denmark (on behalf of the Faroes Islands and Greenland) – could not complete the review this week but agreed to schedule further work on this issue in early 2013.

The Pew Environment Group and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) had urged NEAFC to bring its deep-sea fisheries regulations fully in line with recommendations that the UN General Assembly has issued since 2006. Pew and DSCC had hoped that NEAFC would complete the task this week but both groups also see some positive results from the meeting.

“We are disappointed that NEAFC has not yet effectively regulated these fisheries to really protect the deep sea from destructive fishing,” said Matt Gianni, a senior advisor to the Pew Environment Group and a co-founder of the DSCC. “But we feel the Commission’s decision to keep working rather than prematurely terminate the process is the best decision. Still, NEAFC countries must ensure that these fisheries are managed sustainably and implement effective conservation measures for deep-sea species fished on the high seas.”

Gianni added that dozens of species are known to be caught in deep-sea fisheries on the high seas in the region and most are believed to have been heavily depleted as a result of fishing.

Pew and the DSCC note that NEAFC did take some steps this week to protect the deep sea, including increasing the area of Hatton and Rockall Banks closed to bottom fishing to protect deep-sea corals and sponge habitats. However, NEAFC did not adopt the full set of recommendations of its scientific advisory body – the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) – which had called for several additional area closures on both banks, and on Josephine Seamount. These areas are fished primarily by European Union bottom trawl fleets.

NEAFC also agreed to extend, for four years, a ban on directed fishing for 17 species of highly vulnerable deep-sea sharks, such as leafscale gulper shark and Portuguese dogfish. But NEAFC rejected an EU proposal to close the fishery for orange roughy, which ICES had recommended due to depletion of the species. Denmark, working on behalf of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, joined Russia in blocking the EU proposal. A proposal from Norway to limit, for the first time, the catch of grenadiers on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, one of the largest deep-sea fisheries under NEAFC’s control, failed to get sufficient support from the other NEAFC Members.

Pew and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition call on NEAFC member countries to redouble their efforts to bring their deep-sea regulations fully into line with their international commitments to protect deep-sea species and ecosystems.