Yesterday the European Commission published a legislative proposal to regulate deep sea fishing in the North East Atlantic over the next 10 years. One measure has stood out from the rest: a phasing out of licences for deep sea trawling and bottom gillnetting over the next two years.
The ban would end the use of bottom trawls and bottom-set gillnets for EU vessels targeting deep-sea species. It will apply to all fishing in EU waters and all EU vessels operating on the high seas in the NEAFC (North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission) region.
Deep sea trawling, which drags heavy nets across the seabed, is recognised to be harmful to the fragile deep sea marine habitats and destructive to deep sea fish stocks. Fish species living in the deep sea environment are highly vulnerable and have been severely depleted, according to EU assessements.
NGOs heralded the proposal as “historic”. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) stated: “The proposal is strong and, if adopted, would mark a significant turning point in the fortunes of the deep sea, which have been recognised as needing urgent protection from destructive fishing practices”.
The proposal was scheduled to be published last week, but pressure from the French Commissioner, Michel Barnier, meant publication was blocked. France and Spain are the two countries predominantly involved in the fishery.
Initial reactions opposing the ban have been sharp. The French Fisheries Minister has said the proposal is “unacceptable” and that he will oppose it. A representative of Scapêche, a French company directly involved in deep sea trawling, said it was “A loss of reason. The Commission’s position is purely political”.
The Commission Proposal will now be sent to the EU Fisheries Minsters and the European Parliament for adoption. The debates are very likely to be heated.
Proposal for a regulation establishing specific conditions to fishing for deep-sea stocks in the North-East Atlantic and provisions for fishing in international waters of the North-East Atlantic and repealing Regulation (EC) No 2347/2002