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), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2012.07.033
“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)