European Community Reaches Agreement to Protect Deep Sea Fish, Sponges and Corals

The European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission  reached an agreement on July 30, 2016 to better protect deep-sea fish, sponges and corals while maintaining the viability of the European fishing industry. The agreement brings the EU rules on deep-sea fisheries, which date back to 2003, in line with the sustainability targets enshrined in the EU’s reformed Common Fisheries Policy.
The text agreed contains a number of provisions that will help better protect the European deep seas. From now on, fishermen may only target deep-sea fish in areas where they have fished in the past (their so-called ‘fishing footprint’), thereby ensuring that pristine environments remain untouched. Trawls below 800m will be banned completely in EU waters, and areas with vulnerable marine environments (VMEs) will be closed to bottom fishing below 400m. To further protect VMEs, fishermen will have to report how many deep-sea sponges or corals they catch and move on to other fishing grounds in case a certain maximum amount has been reached.
These measures are complemented by a reinforced observers’ scheme that will improve the scientific understanding of the deep sea. Finally, specific measures, for example landings in designated ports, will be taken to improve enforcement and control. Fishing authorisations may ultimately be withdrawn in case of failure to comply with the new rules.
Deep-sea species are caught in deep waters in the Atlantic beyond the main fishing grounds on the continental shelves, in depths up to 1500 metres. This is a fragile environment which, 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.
Deep-sea fisheries in the North-East Atlantic are pursued in EU waters, including the outermost regions of Portugal and Spain, and in international waters governed by conservation measures adopted within the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), in which the EU participates along with the other countries fishing in the area.
Deep-sea fisheries account for about 1% of fish landed from the North-East Atlantic. The catches – and related jobs – have been declining for years, due to depleted stocks. The poor state of key deep-sea stocks and the lack of scientific data clearly demonstrated that a better management framework for deep-sea fisheries was necessary.
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