The European Union has rejected the opportunity to ban deep-sea bottom trawling, giving in to industry demands at the expense of fish stocks.

Deep-sea species are caught in deep waters in the Atlantic beyond the main fishing grounds on the continental shelves, in depths up to 4000 metres. Their habitats and ecosystems are largely unknown but it is a fragile environment that, once damaged, is unlikely to recover. Highly vulnerable to fishing, deep-sea fish stocks are quick to collapse and slow to recover because they reproduce at low rates.

In the past, this fishery went on largely unregulated, and this clearly impacted negatively on the stocks concerned. In 2003, the EU started imposing limits on the amount of fish that can be taken, on the numbers of vessels authorised, and on the days they can spend at sea (i.e. fishing effort) to fish for those species.

Yesterday the EU voted on, and rejected, a proposal to gradually phase-out of those fishing gears that specifically target deep sea species in a less sustainable manner, such as bottom trawls. The decision will not be reviewed for another four years.

Kriton Arsenis, a member of the European parliament (MEP) and the Socialists and Democrats group negotiator on the measure, expressed his disappointment saying “We fought for the best solution – the protection of deep-sea fish and vulnerable marine ecosystems. The Parliament gave in to industry demands and voted against a ban on sea-bed trawling and the move to selective fishing gear.”

Ulrike Rodust, MEP and spokesperson on fisheries, commmented “The good news today is that two French supermarket giants have decided not to sell deep-sea fish anymore. European consumers have proven that they have the power to make a difference.

According to environmental group Greenpeace, between 1996 and 2010, more than €140 million of European citizen’s taxes went to the Spanish bottom trawling fleet. Spain, France and Portugal take almost 90 percent of the EU’s deep-sea catch (by weight), but only France and Spain focus on the destructive practice of bottom trawling. The two countries expanded into deep-sea fishing in the 70s and 80s, building and modernising their fleet with EU subsidies, even as scientists began to warn against overfishing.

Deep sea fisheries account for about 1% of fish landed from the North-East Atlantic, but some local fishing communities depend to a certain extent on deep-sea fisheries. The catches – and related jobs – have been declining for years, due to depleted stocks.

Further Reading:
Deep-sea fisheries: Parliament calls for bottom trawling ban in vulnerable areas
Until the Very Last Fish? Ocean Enquirer, Greenpeace

Photo credit: timandkris (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)