North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission fails to sufficiently protect deep-sea stocks and biodiversity

Published on November 21, 2006

NEAFC, the intergovernmental commission responsible for managing deep-water fishing in the North East Atlantic, made some progress on improving the protection of deep-water fish and corals last week. However it failed to deliver some much needed tougher decisions to protect deep-sea biodiversity.

The proposal to close the fishery on the highly vulnerable stocks of Orange Roughy, the proposal to close two areas, Rockall and Hatton banks, with cold-water coral reefs to bottom trawling and the proposal to stop the expansion of destructive deep-water fisheries into new, previously unexploited areas, were all compromised. The proposals all came from it’s own working groups based on scientific advice from ICES.

The meeting also failed to act on ICES advice to stop fishing for blue ling and deep-water sharks and to dramatically scale-down fishing activity on all other deep-water stocks in the NEAFC area.

The meeting refused to stop the expansion of deepwater fisheries into new areas, and only agreed to reduce current levels of overall fishing effort by a meagre 5 %. This is far from the proposal.

In the case of Orange Roughy, the Faroe Islands refused to agree to a prohibition, despite having only one boat that targets the species. Instead they chose short-term self-interest, with a view to mining the stocks of this incredibly vulnerable species in the future. The meeting therefore agreed to an interim suspension of the fishery (while it is out of season anyway) until an Extraordinary Meeting of NEAFC in June 2007 revisits the issue.

A similarly selfish refusal by Russia, who failed to agree with the EU proposal for closure of the coral rich south west Rockall Bank where they fish intensively, led the meeting to leave that area open for further destruction and only close the other proposed areas.

Activities at NEAFC will be watched carefully by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, which is currently negotiating global measures to protect deep-water habitats from bottom trawling. “The assumption at the UN is that regional fisheries management authorities are best placed to protect vulnerable habitats from bottom trawling, but NEAFC has shown yet again that it lacks both the political will and the institutional arrangements necessary to fully protect deep-water stocks and the wider environment”, said Dr Monica Verbeek, Fisheries Policy Officer at Seas At Risk, an environmental organisation based in Brussels.

In a related development the EU Fisheries Council will meet today to negotiate the 2007 and 2008 Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for deep-water fisheries in European waters. The outcome of NEAFC’s Annual Meeting is disappointing, but now the EU must show that they at least are capable of providing real protection for the deep-sea, one of the richest but most vulnerable environments on the planet.