Press Release: Deep-sea Baton Passes to Full European Parliament, Fisheries Committee Fails to Remove Threat

Date: November 4, 2013

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A proposal for a new European Union regulation to protect the deep sea from overfishing and destructive fishing practices in the north-east Atlantic survived the long awaited vote in the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee today as the 25 members of the committee voted on a series of amendments, resulting in both potential gains and losses for the ocean.

Although the committee voted for several measures that would help to protect deep-sea ecosystems such as corals, sponges, and seamounts, it rejected a proposal from the European Commission to phase-out deep-sea bottom trawling and bottom gillnetting, fishing methods widely recognised as posing a particular threat to deep-sea species and ecosystems. The proposal adopted today will now go to the plenary of the European Parliament for a vote currently scheduled for December 2013.

“While some important measures were accepted, others were rejected and the final proposal adopted by the Fisheries Committee is not sufficient to provide the protection required for the deep sea. Now we must rely on the plenary of the Parliament to champion the conservation of the deep ocean’ said Matthew Gianni, policy advisor to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The proposal adopted by the Fisheries Committee includes requirements to somewhat strengthen the scientific basis for setting quotas for deep-sea species and reduce bycatch of vunerable deep sea species. The committee also adopted proposals to provide protection for vulnerable deep-sea marine ecosystems. These measures include, for example, requiring environmental impact assessments of deep-sea fisheries and closure to bottom fishing of areas where such ecosystems are known or likely to occur.

However, a majority of the members of the European Parliament on the committee supported the Scottish, French, and Spanish deep-sea trawl fleet interests and voted against a phase-out of the most destructive deep-sea fishing practices—bottom trawling and bottom gillnet fishing. Moreover, the proposal adopted would create loopholes allowing continued depletion of vulnerable deep-sea species.

Progress in the Fisheries Committee had been hampered by continuous delays and an aggressive campaign by the deep-sea trawling industry. This hindrance stands in stark contrast to the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, which in March voted overwhelmingly (58-1) for a regulation that would phase-out deep-sea bottom trawling and bottom gillnet fishing and set strict limits on the catch and bycatch of deep-sea species.

“It’s now up to the 766 members of the European Parliament to represent the broader opinion of all European citizens” said Gianni. “We all have a stake in a healthy, biologically rich, and productive deep sea and the benefits it supplies to the planet. Conserving it will be a great legacy.”

The deep ocean is one of the largest, most biologically diverse areas of the Earth. Deep-sea species and ecosystems are slow growing, much more easily overexploited than shallow-water species, highly susceptible to damage, and slow to recover from the damage caused by bottom trawling.