MEPs ban deep-sea fishing below 800 meters in the North-East Atlantic
A ban on fishing below a depth of 800 meters in the North-East Atlantic was backed by Parliament on Tuesday. This ban will apply to bottom trawling, which often wrecks sea bed habitats, and also restrict deep-sea fishing to the area where it took place between 2009 and 2011. Tougher checks at sea and transparent data collection rules will also apply.
"This deep-sea fishing regulation is highly symbolic. Deep-sea fishing is an economic activity which, besides its social function of providing jobs, also provides food and it has a strong environmental impact", said rapporteur Isabelle Thomas (S&D, FR). “We have won an agreement tailored to our priorities and all its aims”, she added.
The new rules will set a depth limit of 800 metres, beneath which it will be illegal to fish. This will help protect the fragile vulnerable marine ecosystems of the deep sea bed.
The regulation also lays down separate rules to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) at depths below 400 metres. If a catch exceeds set amounts of VME indicator species, then the vessel will have to stop fishing immediately and resume only when it has moved at least five nautical miles away from where it encountered a VME.
Fishing area covered by the new regulation
The EU will restrict the North-East Atlantic "footprint" area, where deep-sea fishing is permitted, to that where deep-sea fishing took place in 2009-2011. This rule will apply to vessels targeting deep-sea species; i.e. those whose deep-sea species catch makes up more than 8% of the total on at least one fishing trip during the year.
Data collection, transparency, observers on board
MEPs also inserted stronger transparency safeguards, by including obligations to provide public information on EU vessels targeting deep-sea species and to report all catches (fish and vulnerable ecosystems).
EU member states will also be required to provide information on the location of vulnerable ecosystems (impact assessments) and the EU Commission will assess this data annually and adapt the footprint area accordingly (using implementing acts).
MEPs also included tougher checks at sea - 20% of EU vessels will need to have an observer (scientist) on board to ensure that timely and accurate data are collected.
Technological progress in the 1980s and 1990s enabled new forms of fishing at previously unexplored depths, from several hundred to several thousand metres below the surface. But deep-sea ecosystems still remain largely unknown today. Some deep-sea fish species can live for a very long time (over a century in the case of the orange roughy), and some deep-sea corals can be thousands of years old. Very slow-growing and late-reproducing fish stocks are highly sensitive to overfishing. Vulnerable marine habitats (of corals or sponges, for example) are also particularly sensitive to some fishing methods.
In view of the threats to deep-sea stocks, and recognising the fragility of deep-sea ecosystems, various initiatives to promote more responsible deep-sea exploitation have been taken, both globally (e.g. by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) and at regional level (e.g. North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC).
Procedure: ordinary legislative procedure, second reading agreement
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- maturation at relatively old age
- slow growth
- long life expectancies
- low natural mortality rates
- spawning that may not occur every year