Scientists letter to George Eustice on EU regulation deep sea fisheries

Mr George Eustice, MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square

Date: 21 January 2015

Re: EU deep-sea fisheries legislation

Dear Minister Eustice,

We write to you as scientists with a professional interest in the deep sea to urge you to take advantage of a historical opportunity to secure significant protection for the deep ocean surrounding Europe. As you are aware, the European Council is debating new EU legislation for the management of deep-sea fisheries in EU waters and the high seas of the Northeast Atlantic. We are calling on you exercise leadership to negotiate a new EU regulation to phase-out bottom trawl fishing in the deep sea, among other measures, to protect vulnerable species and habitats. We would point out that the UK was the first EU Member State to extend the European Habitats Directive to protect deep-sea ecosystems and so has led Europe in progressive management of offshore habitats.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that bottom trawling along the continental slopes, on seamounts, and in other deep-sea areas in the Northeast Atlantic is detrimental to deep-sea ecosystems and species. Numerous scientific papers and reports have documented the damage caused by bottom trawl fishing on cold-water corals, sponge fields and other vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems. Many of us have witnessed this damage first hand during our research both in European waters and the high seas. Moreover, given the high vulnerability of slow growing, long lived and low fecundity deep-sea species and the unselective character of the gear, deep-sea bottom trawling has led to the depletion of whole communities of deep-sea fish, including both commercially targeted as well as by-catch species, in UK and EU waters.

Recent scientific information has indicated that, in addition to the problems highlighted above, chronic and intensive deep-sea bottom trawling on continental slope sediment areas reduces the abundance and diversity of the organisms living in the sediment and reduces the capacity of slope sediments to act as carbon sinks. Similarly, a recent study by researchers from the University of Southampton and the Marine Institute of Ireland estimated that species of deep-sea fish inhabiting continental slope areas off the UK and Ireland sequester approximately one million tons of carbon per year. The Global Ocean Commission has also found that the value of carbon sequestration by the high seas, globally, far outweighs the economic benefits of high seas fishing, of which deep-sea fishing is a tiny fraction. These are important ecosystem services provided by deep-sea species and seabed ecosystems at risk from the continued use of bottom trawl gear.

To the extent that deep-sea species can be fished sustainably, it is not necessary to fish with bottom trawl gear. Deep sea fish can be caught using other bottom gears provided they are well managed and the limits on the catch are set at sustainable levels. Moreover, from the information we’ve seen, there appears to be very little bottom trawling activity by EU fleets in the northeast Atlantic below 600 meters depth and the existing trawl activity below this depth is likely to be highly damaging in comparison to the economic benefits of these fisheries.

A new EU regulation for the management of the EU’s deep-sea fisheries that would require a phase-out of the use of bottom trawl gear in the deep-sea and a shift to low impact, selective fishing gear and provide for the protection of vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems, the recovery of damaged ecosystems and the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks and species is an eminently sensible and achievable goal.

The UK is a world-class centre of deep-sea research, with new species and habitats still being discovered not far from our shores. This issue requires leadership, for the protection of UK waters and those of Europe and the high seas. We urge you to use your influence to negotiate a new EU regulation for the management of deep-sea fishing to conserve and protect deep-sea species and ecosystems before more are irreparably depleted or destroyed and their wealth lost to present and future generations.

The following individuals have signed the letter (affiliations are for identification only, and do not imply endorsement by the signers’ institutions):

Professor Alex David Rogers,
Department of Zoology, Oxford University

Professor J. Murray Roberts
Director, Centre for Marine Biodiversity & Biotechnology
School of Life Sciences, Heriot-Watt University

Professor David Bailey
Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow

Dr. Clive Trueman
University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre

Professor Callum Roberts
Environment Department, University of York

Dr. Kerry Howell
School of Marine Science and Engineering
Marine Institute, Plymouth University

Dr. Maria Baker
DEEPSEAS Group, Ocean and Earth Sciences,
University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre,

Dr. Tammy Horton
Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems
National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton 

Dr. Jessica Craig
Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen

Dr. Ursula Witte
Professor of Biological Oceanography
Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen

Prof. P. R. Dando
Lankester Research Fellow
Maine Biological Association of the UK
Citadel Hill, Plymouth

Dr. Kerstin Kröger
Benthic Ecologist, UK

Prof. Philip P.E. Weaver
Managing Director
Seascape Consultants Ltd, Rooms

Dr. Ben Wigham
Marine Science Degree Programme Director & Research Vessel Manager
Dove Marine Laboratory
School of Marine Science and Technology, Newcastle University

Dr. Chris Yesson
Research Fellow
Institute of Zoology
Zoological Society of London

Dr. Kirsty Kemp
Research Fellow
Institute of Zoology
Zoological Society of London

Dr. Paul Tyler
Emeritus Professor of Deep-Sea Biology
University of Southampton

Dr. David J. Hughes
Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban

Dr. Tim Ferrero
Head of Marine Conservation
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

Dr. Bhavani Narayanaswamy PhD FSB
Senior Lecturer, Scottish Association for Marine Science
Scottish Marine Institute, Oban

Dr. Claudia H.S. Alt
University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre

Dr. Andrew J Davies
School of Ocean Sciences
Bangor University

Dr. Lea-Anne Henry
Research Fellow
Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

Dr. Jon Copley
Ocean & Earth Sciences
University of Southampton

Dr. Angela Benn
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

Paris Stefanoudis
Ocean and Earth Sciences
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

Jason Hall-Spencer
Professor of Marine Biology
Plymouth University

Imants (Monty) G. Priede DSc FRSE
Professor Emeritus, Institute of Biological & Environmental Sciences
Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen

Dr. Jeroen Ingels
Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Dr. Laura Miller
Executive Director
Synchronicity Earth, London

Dr. Katy Scholfield
Conservation Research Analyst, Forests and Oceans Portfolios lead
Synchronicity Earth, London

Natalia Serpetti
Post Doctoral Research Associate
Scottish Association for Marine Science
Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory, Oban

Dr. Michelle Taylor
Postdoctoral Researcher – Deep Sea Ecology
Postdoctoral Fellow of St. Anne’s College
Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

Rui Pedro Vieira
PhD student
Ocean and Earth Science
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

Dr. P.A. Loka Bharathi
CSIR Scientist Emeritus NIO & Professor AcSIR
Biological Oceanography
CSIR, National Institute of Oceanography
Dona Paula, Goa, India

Jeffrey Drazen
Professor, Department of Oceanography
University of Hawaii, Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Lisa A. Levin
Director, Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and Distinguished Professor
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
UC San Diego, USA

Antonio Pusceddu
Associate Professor of Ecology
Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, Marche Polytechnic University
Ancona, Italy

Dr. Elizabeth De Santo
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Department of Earth and Environment
Franklin & Marshall College, USA

Dr. Thomas C. Shirley
Professor Emeritus, Texas A&M Univ.
Professor Emeritus, Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks, USA

Sergio Stefanni, PhD
Research Fellow
Institute of Intelligent Systems for Automation (ISSIA)
National Research Council (CNR)
Genova, Italy

David Thistle
Professor of Oceanography Emeritus
Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Florida State University Tallahassee, Florida, USA

Les Watling
Professor and Graduate Chair
Department of Biology
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Fred Whoriskey, PhD
Executive Director, Ocean Tracking Network
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Dr. Mark J Costello,
Institute of Marine Sciences
University of Auckland, New Zealand

Dr. Emanuela Fanelli PhD
Marine Environment Research Centre
ENEA – Santa Teresa, La Spezia, Italy

Kostas Kapiris
Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, I.M.B.R.
Athens, Greece

Nikolaos Lampadariou
Hellenic Centre for Marine Research
Heraklion, Crete, Greece

Dr. Bernd Christiansen
Universität Hamburg
Institut für Hydrobiologie und Fischereiwissenschaft
Hamburg, Germany

Prof. Dr. Angelika Brandt
Centre of Natural History
University of Hamburg, Zoological Museum, Germany

Steve W. Ross, PhD
Research Professor
Center for Marine Science
Wilmington, NC USA

Dr. Andrey Gebruk
Head of Laboratory of Ocean Benthic Fauna
P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Russia

Anna Metaxas
Professor, Department of Oceanography
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Canada

Jeff Ardron
Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies
Potsdam, Germany

Sandra Brooke Ph.D
Research Faculty II
Florida State University Coastal and Marine Lab
St Teresa, FL USA

Dr. James Barry
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Moss Landing, CA USA

Dr. Diva Amon
Postdoctoral Researcher
Department of Oceanography
University of Hawai’i at Manoa, USA

Prof. Marcelo Visentini Kitahara
Departamento de Ciências do Mar
Universidade Federal de São Paulo
Santos (SP) – Brazil

Dr. Andrew K. Sweetman
Chief senior scientist in deep-sea ecology
International Research Institute of Stavanger
Randaberg, Norway

Dr. Louise Allcock
Ryan Institute, National University of Ireland Galway

Dr. Lance Morgan
Executive Director
Marine Conservation Institute
Seattle, WA USA