Europe A Step Closer To Protecting Deep Sea From Bottom Trawling

European Parliament must now conclude negotiations with Council and Commission

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) welcomes the latest milestones in a lengthy battle to protect a uniquely vulnerable environment as the European Union (EU) Fisheries Council agreed last week to support measures to limit destructive deep-sea fishing, in particular to prohibit bottom trawling below 800 metres in EU waters in the northeast Atlantic. The European Parliament, which formulated its position on the file in December 2013, agreed today to enter into negotiations with the Council to finalise a regulation.

The EU has one of the largest deep-sea fishing fleets in the world. Bottom trawlers drag huge, weighted nets along the deep seafloor, wiping out all in their path, including corals and sponges that have flourished for thousands of years.

The European Commission issued a proposal in July 2012 for a new regulation for deep-sea fishing in the northeast Atlantic. The Parliament concluded its ‘first reading’ in December 2013, adding a number of conservation measures, but removing, by an extremely narrow majority, the proposed phase out of deep-sea bottom trawling. Discussions in Council working groups, with representatives of the EU’s 28 fisheries Ministers, started in the second half of 2014 but only progressed in earnest in the past few months under the leadership of Luxembourg, which currently holds the rotating Council Presidency. Most notably, the Fisheries Council proposed a depth-based limit to deep-sea bottom trawling. Now the two institutions, Council and Parliament, with the participation of the Commission, will seek a compromise in what are called trilogue negotiations.

“The science clearly supports setting a limit at a depth of 600 metres for bottom trawling,” said Matthew Gianni, adviser to The Pew Charitable Trusts and the DSCC. “Parliament must at a minimum back the 800-metre limit proposed by Council. In addition, it is critical that the regulation include a rigorous process for identifying and closing areas to bottom trawling that have known or likely vulnerable deep-sea habitats.”

“Over 300 scientists and hundreds of thousands of EU citizens have urged an end to damaging deep-sea bottom trawling. Significant sectors of the fishing industry have accepted an 800-metre limit, including the major French deep-sea fleet Scapêche, which agreed not to bottom trawl below this depth,” said Claire Nouvian of DSCC partner Bloom Association. “The ball is now back in the court of the European Parliament, and we urge a speedy conclusion of negotiations with Council and Commission.”