EU deep-sea fishing ignores scientific advice

As members of the European Parliament are starting to debate a new regulation for the EU’s deep-sea fisheries, scientists show that the deep-sea management has so far not been effective.

As fish stocks become progressively depleted, fishermen search deeper and deeper for new fishing grounds.

In a new study published in the journal Ocean Costal Management, a team of researchers conclude that in 60% of cases, quotas for deep-sea species were higher than the value recommended by scientists and that the catch exceeded the quotas in 50% of cases. These figures are based on an analysis of the exploitation of EU deep-sea fish stocks from 2002 to 2011.

“On average, when the catch overshot the quota, it exceeded it by 3.5 times, however in some instances, catches were up to 28 times higher than the approved quotas for deep-sea species,” lead author Sebastian Villasante said in a press release.

Co-author Telmo Morato commented: “Our study shows that the European Council holds little regard for scientific advice on sustainable catches and that the fishing industry does not comply with agreed catch limits.”

Part of the problem is that new fisheries develop much faster than what scientific communities and policy-makers can keep up with, according to co-author Henrik Österblom. “The consequence is that some of the most important data about the species is gathered long after the stock has actually collapsed,” he wrote.

Deep-sea fish become very old and reproduce late in life, which is why they are very sensitive to overfishing. The EU fleet is going deeper at a higher rate than the rest of the world, according to the study. Between 1950 and 2006, EU fishing vessels increased their fishing depth by an average of 78 meters, while the world’s fleet expanded its average fishing depth by 42 meters.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has warned that most deep-sea species exploited by European fishing industries are harvested outside safe biological limits. As a result, the EU in 2002 started regulating the exploitation of deep-sea stocks with total allowable catches (TACs). According to the authors, this study is the first assessment of the effectiveness of the EU deep-sea management.

The researchers warn that the gap between scientific advice and policy recommendations is too big and needs to be dealt with.

“It seems urgent to change economic incentives and increase compliance in order to avoid further overfishing,” Henrik Österblom said.

In July the European Commission proposed a ban on bottom trawls and bottom-set gillnets for EU vessels targeting deep-sea species. The French Fisheries Minister has said the proposal is “unacceptable” and that he will oppose it. The regulation will be discussed by the Fisheries Committee in the European Parliament for the first time next week, on 8–9 October.

The deep-sea figures can be compared with another study that found that for all fish stocks, EU governments exceeded the scientific advice in 68 percent of the cases.

Villasante, S., et al., Sustainability of deep-sea fish species under the European Union Common Fisheries Policy, Ocean & Coastal Management (2012),

Read more:
“In deep water” – Summary of the study (by Stockholm Resilience Centre, where co-author Henrik Österblom is based)

Press release – “Deep trouble for deep-water species” (by Bloom Association, an organisation campaigning against deep-sea fishing)

Axel Naver

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    Urgent Common Call to
    Hon. Navin Ramgoolam, Prime Minister, Republic of Mauritius

    We, the
    undersigned organisations and engaged citizens are very concerned with recent
    developments concerning the plundering of our marine resources. We have been
    made aware that Fishing Agreements, such as the European Union-Mauritius
    Fishing Partnership Agreements, are being concluded by the Ministries of
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    Given that
    these agreements are being negotiated:

    without the participation of citizens – consumers, workers and specially fisher
    folks and sea workers;

    assessing the real benefit for the people of the Mauritius;

    considering the necessity of a new food sovereignty policy, especially when
    a serious food crisis is looming

    assessing conveniently its impact of our marine resources and the marine

    We call on you as Prime Minister of the Government of Mauritius, responsible of
    our resources and the future of our people:

    1. to immediately freeze the recently initialised
    Mauritius-EU Fishing Partnership Agreement.

    2. to setup a National Maritime Audit Commission, which
    includes representatives of fisher folks, scientific experts, consumer’s
    organisations, ecologists and trade union organisations:

    (a) to undertake an assessment of the marine resources,
    including fishing resources,
    within our Maritime Zone;

    (b) to assess whether these resources are being nurtured
    in line with ecosystem principles and used to the benefit of the people of
    Mauritius – its citizens, consumers and workers of the sea of Mauritius.

    (c) to make recommendations for the optimal use of our
    marine resources to design a new policy to ensure the food sovereignty and
    security of our country and its people, and to ensure decent
    employment to our people, while respecting the principle of a balanced
    marine eco-system.

    3. We propose that any eventual fishing agreement with the
    EU or any other foreign entities,
    be envisaged after, and in line, with the Report of the National
    Maritime Audit Commission.

    common appeal is being made in the name of our love of nature, our respect to
    life, human dignity and livelihoods.

    Common Call Initiated by the Syndicats des Pecheurs,
    Professional Seafearers Union, General Workers Federation, Centre for
    Alternative Research and Studies and Rezistans ek Alternativ

    c/o Bois Cheri Rd, Moka. Email:

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