On Thursday (29 November) the Council will set quotas for deep-sea fish species for 2013–2014. Conservation groups say that proposed quota increases for two stocks threaten many other species.
Deciding how much fish to catch in the EU is a three-step process. First, the Commission asks ICES for scientific advice. Second, the Commission makes a proposal on fishing opportunities for the coming year. Third, the Council makes a decision based on the Commission’s proposal.
The Council has a history of increasing the total allowable catch (TAC) compared to the Commission’s proposal. It is therefore alarming, say environmental NGOs, that the Commission has put forward a proposal on deep-sea catches that does not adhere to the scientific advice.
The Commission has proposed to increase by 77 % the total allowable catch (TAC) for roundnose grenadiers west of the British Isles (to 4,500 tonnes), on the grounds that this level would lead to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY).
However, the scientific advice from ICES says the precautionary approach allows for a TAC of 2,546 tonnes, i.e. no increase at all. The precautionary approach, as it happens, is enshrined in article 2 of the current Common Fisheries Policy.
The Commission has also proposed to increase by 20% the TAC for one of the black scabbard fish stocks in western waters.
These increases will also affect other species, conservationists warn.
“The increase of quotas for a given species caught with unselective gear in mixed fisheries will inevitably result in higher mortalities of other bycatch species,” Claire Nouvian, founder of the deep-sea conservation organisation Bloom, wrote in a letter to several fisheries ministers.
A study published last year showed that the French fleet caught 144 different species while looking primarily for black scabbard fish, roundnose grenadiers and blue ling.
ICES outlined in 2010 that 100% of the EU deep-water fish catch lay ‘outside safe biological limits’.
Deep sea ecosystems are highly vulnerable. Some of the slow-growing fish species can reach the age of 80 years. There are corals that can become thousands of years old that are destroyed by deep sea trawling.
The Commission earlier this year proposed a new regime to protect deep sea fish stocks, for example by banning deep sea trawling.
It was announced this week that Richard Branson, the adventurer and entrepreneur, has called on the UK to support that initiative and take a leading role in cutting back deep sea fishing.
A recent study showed that not only do fisheries ministers usually set TACs higher than the scientific advice, but fishermen also overshoot those TACs.
The meeting of the fisheries ministers on 29 November will start at 10:00.