All fishing activities should be banned in areas with vulnerable marine ecosystems, to be listed by the European Commission. However, bottom trawling should not yet be phased out altogether, said MEPs in Tuesday's plenary vote on a draft EU regulation on fishing deep-sea stocks in the North-East Atlantic.
"We fought for the best possible protection for deep-sea fish and vulnerable marine ecosystems. But the plenary decided to back the compromise reached in the Fisheries Committee. So Parliament gave in to industry demands and voted against an immediate ban on bottom trawling and a switch to more selective fishing gear. Now is the moment of truth for the Council. Is it going to accept the Fisheries Committee compromise, or does it want no protection of deep sea stocks whatsoever? People want to know. Otherwise they will start asking who is blocking the decisions needed to protect and sustain deep-sea species", said rapporteur Kriton Arsenis (S&D, EL), after the vote. His report was adopted by 567 votes to 91 with 32 abstentions.
An amendment calling for a general phase-out of bottom trawling after two years was narrowly rejected by 342 votes to 326, with 19 abstentions.
Specified vulnerable areas to be closed to all vessels
Member states must use the best scientific and technical information available to identify where vulnerable marine ecosystems are known to occur or are likely to occur. Based on this information, the Commission should establish a list of these areas, which would then be closed to all EU vessels if the areas are in the high seas, and to all vessels in general when they are situated in Union waters, says the approved text.
All deep-sea trawling could be banned after 4 years
MEPs nonetheless introduced a review clause requiring the Commission after four years to evaluate the impact of the special fishing gear used for deep-sea fishing (especially bottom trawls or bottom-set gillnets) on vulnerable deep-sea species and marine ecosystems. If this evaluation shows that these ecosystems or deep-sea stocks are not sufficiently well protected, the Commission would then have to table a proposal for a general ban on the gear concerned..
Financial help to change fishing gear
Owners of boats using deep-sea bottom trawls or bottom-set gillnets should be eligible for European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) financial assistance to help them change fishing gear modify boats where necessary, and acquire the necessary know-how and training to use this new gear, provided that it has a lower and limited impact on the marine environment and vulnerable marine ecosystems.
Deep-sea stocks are fish caught in waters beyond the main fishing grounds of the continental shelves. Most of these species are slow-growing and long-living, which makes them particularly vulnerable to fishing. Their habitats and ecosystems are largely unknown and their fragile environment, once damaged, may take centuries to recover.
Member states must still state their position in the Council, after which MEPs will try to negotiate an agreement with them, to be approved by Parliament in a second reading vote next year.