Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission fails to move forward on Deep Sea Conservation

Date: November 15, 2013

LONDON (Nov. 15, 2013) – At its annual meeting this week, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, or NEAFC, has failed to close seven areas to deep-sea bottom fishing to protect vulnerable deep-sea species and ecosystems. These seven areas were recommended to be closed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, the scientific advisory organization mandated to provide advice to NEAFC on managing fisheries in the northeast Atlantic. Furthermore, after two years of negotiations NEAFC also failed to adopt revisions to its basic regulations for the protection of deep sea habitats and the conservation of deep-sea fish stocks to ensure consistency with United Nations General Assembly resolutions.

NEAFC is a regional fisheries management organization established to manage high seas fisheries in the North East Atlantic Ocean.

“The failure of NEAFC member states to adopt a regulation for the protection of deep sea habitats and the sustainable management of deep-sea fish stocks in line with their commitments to the UN General Assembly is deeply disappointing”, said Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and adviser to the Coalition and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

NEAFC did agree for the first time to set limits on the catch of roundnose grenadier, a major and previously unregulated deep-sea fishery on the high seas. NEAFC also maintained its prohibition on the catch of deep-sea sharks, all of which are exceptionally vulnerable to fishing pressure. However, NEAFC once again agreed to allow fishing for orange roughy, a heavily depleted species. Moreover, the catch of most deep-sea species in NEAFC waters remains unregulated.

The European Union together with Norway had argued for strengthening the deep-sea regulations. The EU for years has supported the implementation of United Nations General Assembly resolutions that require improvements in the protection of deep-sea species and habitats from the impact of bottom fisheries. Coincidentally, the EU is currently reviewing its domestic deep-sea fisheries management for the North East Atlantic.

Last week, the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament adopted a report based on the European Commission’s July 2012 proposal for a new deep-sea fishing regulation that includes strong requirements to identify and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems and to improve the management of deep-sea species. The committee fell short in not agreeing to the European Commission’s proposal to phase out the most destructive fishing practices, such as deep-sea bottom trawling. The European Parliament as a whole will vote on the regulation in December. However,  the EU Fisheries Council, made up of all 28 Member State’s fisheries ministers has consistently delayed formal consideration of the regulation.  Council will now have to begin working soon with the European Parliament to agree to a position on this issue.