EUROPE A STEP CLOSER TO PROTECTING DEEP SEA FROM BOTTOM TRAWLING
European Parliament must now conclude negotiations with Council and Commission
BRUSSELS, 10 November 2015: The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) welcomes the latest milestones in a lengthy battle to protect a uniquely vulnerable environment as the European Union (EU) Fisheries Council agreed last week to support measures to limit destructive deep-sea fishing, in particular to prohibit bottom trawling below 800 metres in EU waters in the northeast Atlantic. The European Parliament, which formulated its position on the file in December 2013, agreed today to enter into negotiations with the Council to finalise a regulation.
The EU has one of the largest deep-sea fishing fleets in the world. Bottom trawlers drag huge, weighted nets along the deep seafloor, wiping out all in their path, including corals and sponges that have flourished for thousands of years.
The European Commission issued a proposal in July 2012 for a new regulation for deep-sea fishing in the northeast Atlantic. The Parliament concluded its ‘first reading’ in December 2013, adding a number of conservation measures, but removing, by an extremely narrow majority, the proposed phase out of deep-sea bottom trawling. Discussions in Council working groups, with representatives of the EU’s 28 fisheries Ministers, started in the second half of 2014 but only progressed in earnest in the past few months under the leadership of Luxembourg, which currently holds the rotating Council Presidency. Most notably, the Fisheries Council proposed a depth-based limit to deep-sea bottom trawling. Now the two institutions, Council and Parliament, with the participation of the Commission, will seek a compromise in what are called trilogue negotiations.
“The science clearly supports setting a limit at a depth of 600 metres for bottom trawling,” said Matthew Gianni, adviser to The Pew Charitable Trusts and the DSCC. “Parliament must at a minimum back the 800-metre limit proposed by Council. In addition, it is critical that the regulation include a rigorous process for identifying and closing areas to bottom trawling that have known or likely vulnerable deep-sea habitats.”
“Over 300 scientists and hundreds of thousands of EU citizens have urged an end to damaging deep-sea bottom trawling. Significant sectors of the fishing industry have accepted an 800-metre limit, including the major French deep-sea fleet Scapêche, which agreed not to bottom trawl below this depth,” said Claire Nouvian of DSCC partner Bloom Association. “The ball is now back in the court of the European Parliament, and we urge a speedy conclusion of negotiations with Council and Commission.”
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NOTES TO EDITORS
The DSCC is an organisation of more than 70 nongovernmental environmental organisations, fishers’ organisations, and law and policy institutes that are committed to protecting the deep sea.
The DSCC will continue to provide all parties in the negotiations with detailed recommendations on an appropriate depth limit, scope of application, and other science-based measures needed to ensure sustainable fisheries and protect the vulnerable environment of the deep sea.
The current regulation for the management of EU deep-sea fisheries has failed to maintain most deep-sea stocks inside safe biological limits and to restore some of the most depleted fish populations in the region. It has also failed to protect vulnerable deep-sea marine ecosystems from highly destructive fishing. Numerous scientific papers and reports have consistently identified bottom-trawl fishing as the greatest threat to deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems.
A review by the European Commission in 2007 concluded that, “Many deep-sea stocks have such low productivity that sustainable levels of exploitation are probably too low to support an economically viable fishery.” In 2010, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) classified the EU’s deep-sea catch to be 100 percent “outside safe biological limits.” In June 2015, he International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), classified two of the main fish species targeted by French and Spanish deep-sea trawlers off the Irish and Scottish coasts as Endangered (roundnose grenadier) and Vulnerable (blue ling).
A paper published in August of this year, A Scientific Basis for Regulating Deep-Sea Fishing by Depth, highlighted that below 600 metres the number of species impacted increases significantly while the value of the catch declines. The catch of particularly vulnerable species of sharks and rays also increases dramatically below 600 metres; that is, going deeper causes greater damage for a reduced benefit to fishermen.
Research on vulnerable ecosystems in the deep sea in Irish and U.K. waters shows that a depth limit on bottom trawling at 600 metres would be likely to see 35 to 40 percent more corals and over 30 more species of deep-sea fish better protected than would one at 800 metres.
 Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, “DSCC Calls for Urgent Action by EU Fisheries Ministers,” June 16, 2015, http://eu.savethehighseas.org/dscc-calls-for-urgent-action-by-eu-fisheries-ministers/.
 Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, “Ground-Breaking Research Confirms Case for the EU to Close the Deep Sea to Bottom Trawling Below 600 Metres,” Sept. 1, 2015, http://eu.savethehighseas.org/ground-breaking-research-confirms-case-for-the-eu-to-close-the-deep-sea-to-bottom-trawling-below-600-metres/.
 Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, “Protecting Deep Sea Corals in UK and Irish Waters,” http://eu.savethehighseas.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/DSCC_NE_Atlantic_vulnerable_species_map_coldwater_corals_-BT_-ban_-600m_vs_-800m.pdf.