25 March 2015
Dear Mr Cormac Burke,
We are pleased that Fishing News International devoted so much space to the debate on a new EU regulation, first proposed in July 2012, for the management of deep-sea fishing in the northeast Atlantic.
The current regulation for the management of EU deep-sea fisheries, adopted in 2002, has failed to maintain most deep-sea stocks inside safe biological limits, not to mention above levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, and failed to restore some of the most depleted fish populations in the northeast Atlantic such as deep-sea sharks. It has also failed to protect vulnerable deep-sea marine ecosystems such as coral, sponge, and seamount ecosystems from the adverse impacts of deep-sea bottom trawling in spite of the concerns raised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and numerous scientific reports and publications.
The inaccuracies in the article, published in the March 2015 edition, however start with the title, which suggests that the UK government is leading proposals to ‘ban 600m+ trawling’. That would be news to us!
The meeting in the UK Houses of Parliament in January of this year that you refer to in the article was an opportunity for UK marine scientists, speaking on their own behalf, to discuss their work on the deep sea with interested politicians. Sixty-one deep-sea scientists wrote recently to the UK fisheries minister, George Eustice, expressing their support for the phasing-out of bottom trawling in deep-sea areas below 600m.
Fishing News, as “the voice of the industry,” was invited with other journalists, scientists and conservationists.
Dr. David Bailey, of the University of Glasgow, spoke of the wide and deep-reaching impact of deep-sea fisheries on both target and bycatch species. This research remains the only study documenting how fishing affects a whole deep-sea fish assemblage compared to an unfished state. This is information that we do not have for many fisheries and provides a unique insight into the effects of deep-sea fishing on the ecosystem.
Dr. Kerry Howell from the University of Plymouth described her work mapping the likely presence of three key deep-sea habitat forming species of cold-water coral, sponge and xenophyophore. Her research shows that only 41%, 11% and 14% respectively of the areas where these habitats are likely to occur in UK waters and on the UK’s legal continental shelf are currently protected by areas closed to deep-sea bottom fishing. Closing the deep-sea areas currently designated as Marine Protected Areas, Special Areas of Conservation and Marine Conservation Zones to bottom trawling would increase such protection slightly, but closing all areas below 600m to bottom trawling would see approximately 88% of such corals and 100% of sponge aggregations and xenophyophore habitats protected. Dr. Howell was thanked for being clear about the limitations of the methodology but conclusions are far beyond being “guesses” as you have claimed.
Professor Phil Weaver, speaking about the results of the EU funded Hermione Project, which he coordinated, highlighted among other things how bottom trawling has a physical impact on the deep seabed of the northeast Atlantic orders of magnitude greater than all other human activities combined.
Finally, Dr. Clive Trueman from the University of Southampton, described his research, published in 2014, on the role of deep-sea fish off the British Isles in drawing down and sequestering CO2. Deep-water fish on the continental slope capture around one to two million tonnes of CO2 per year. He noted that the UK government is funding the development of a carbon capture plant to remove an equivalent amount of CO2 at a cost of approximately one billion pounds over ten years.
All presentations and interviews with the scientists and NGOs are available on-line.
We were surprised to see the reference in the article to the number of vessels in the UK fishing fleet which appears to disregard the under 10 metre vessels as if they did not count somehow. But, rather than correct all the facts and figures here on numbers of potentially affected vessels and the catch, we would draw FNI’s readers attention to our briefing, available on our website and distributed in the meeting: Reforming the European Deep-Sea Fishing Regulation: A Net Win for the UK which contains detailed analysis with references to the sources of information we used.
The debate on the new regulation is ongoing in the EU. We do not recognise several of the descriptions of European member state positions given in the article. We are continually asking countries to make their positions clear. Of course, if Fishing News International has been privy to positions of which we are not aware of then we welcome the publication of this information.
NGOs are not seeking to end deep-sea fishing, or advocating for blanket bottom trawl bans at shallower and shallower depths; we are merely calling upon those responsible to manage fishing in the deep-sea for sustainability and to protect the deep-sea ecosystems associated with the seabed. We are sure these aims are shared by many who owe their livelihoods to fishing.
Co-Founder, Political and Policy Advisor
Deep Sea Conservation Coalition
Director of Bloom Association