Deep-sea stocks still at risk after divided Council decision

Published on November 23, 2006

In spite of scientific advice from ICES that deep water fish such as orange roughy, blue ling and deep water shark fisheries should be closed immediately, EU Ministers in the Council agreed on 21 November on relatively modest reductions in TACs (Total Allowable Catches) for 2007 and 2008, aiming at a final phase-out by 2010/11.

A number of Member States, notably UK, Sweden and Germany taking the lead with support of the Netherlands, Denmark and Estonia, formed a blocking minority to avoid a worse decision on a strong exploitation proposal from France, Spain, Portugal and Poland.

An ICES recommendation to reduce fishing for roundnose grenadier to the lowest possible level and to dramatically scale-down fishing activity on other deep-sea stocks was dealt with in a similar manner. In line with a decision at last week’s Annual Meeting of the NEAFC (1) North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the Council agreed a much too low 5 % reduction of overall fishing effort, a reduction difficult to verify due to unreliable fishing effort data.

This decision comes one week after the EU supported the closure of the orange roughy fishery in international waters, at the NEAFC meeting. For Community waters, the TAC for orange roughy was reduced, although the preceeding TAC level was set much higher than the fleet could catch suggesting a serious depletion of this stock. ICES advice of a closure of this fishery may have come too late, as orange roughy reach sexual maturity very late and live to become significantly older than most humans if not caught in fishing gear.

A step backwards for fish stocks in EU is the adoption of the Mediterranean Regulation with a loophole providing for the reintroduction of driftnets (banned in EU 2002) now called “bottom-set gillnet”. Pressure from France and Italy was apparently the cause.

In a related development (2), negotiations will end this week on a proposed United Nation’s General Assembly Resolution on a moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas. A number of NGOs, including the Fisheries Secretariat, pushes a campaign The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. Deep-sea bottom trawling is the most destructive of all current fishing practices, not only decimating deep-sea fish stocks but also destroying vulnerable deep-sea habitats such as cold-water corals and seamounts. Many nations, including a good number from the EU, are supporting the proposal, but a joint EU position in favour of a moratorium appears to be being blocked by Spain.