Deep-sea Baton Passes to Full European Parliament

Fisheries Committee Fails to Remove Threat

November 4th 2013: 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 ofthe 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 forsetting quotas for deep-sea species and reduce bycatch of vulnerable 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 interestsand 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 bythe 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.

Notes to Editors:
The European Commission released the proposal (COM[2012]371) for a new deep-sea fisheries regulation in July 2012.

The European Parliament plenary vote is currently scheduled for Dec. 10th2013, although this is subject to change. The European Council of Fisheries Ministers from the 28 European Union member States also needs to agree to a new regulation for it to become law; however, negotiations in council have not yet begun, in part because of opposition from France.

Many scientists, marine conservation organizations, and a growing number of small-scale fishers have made their opposition to destructive deep-sea fishing well known

The recently agreed upon basic regulation of the Common Fisheries Policy requires, among other measures, establishing science-based catch limits, applying the precautionary approach when science is inconclusive, minimising bycatch, and protecting vulnerable marine species and habitats. The current negotiation for a new deep-sea fisheries regulation provides an opportunity to ensure that such principles are effectively implemented, as well as carry out the European Union’s obligations under U.N. General Assembly resolutions on deep-sea fisheries.

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition was founded in 2004 to address the issue of bottom trawling on the high seas in the absence of an effective governance regime. The coalition is made up of over 70 nongovernmental organisations, fishers’ organisations, and law and policy institutes, committed to protecting the deep sea: