Key Atlantic Fisheries Body Extends Deep-Sea Shark Protections

Deep sea sharkDeep-sea sharks in a huge swath of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans won extended protections Nov. 16 when the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) extended a ban on targeted fishing of 17 shark species. The policy applies to leafscale gulper sharks, Portuguese dogfish, and other highly vulnerable species.

Many deep-sea sharks are prized for their oils, which are widely used in cosmetics. NEAFC agreed on an extension to the ban at its annual meeting, which took place Nov. 12-16 in London. In past years, Pew has successfully pushed the commission to expand the number of shark species on the list. NEAFC regulates 5.6 million square kilometres of the high seas.

The commission also increased the size of an area on Hatton and Rockall banks, off the coast of Ireland and Scotland, that is closed to bottom fishing to protect deep-sea corals and sponge habitats. But NEAFC did not adopt the full set of recommendations of its scientific advisory body, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which had called for several additional area closures on both banks and on the Josephine Seamount. These areas are fished primarily by European Union bottom trawl fleets.

Overall, the commission failed to take the major strides needed to meaningfully advance deep-sea protections. NEAFC concluded that it could not complete a full review of its deep-sea-related rules as it had committed to do in an effort to bring its policies in line with United Nations General Assembly resolutions adopted over the past six years.

"NEAFC countries must ensure that these fisheries are managed sustainably and must implement effective conservation measures for deep-sea species fished on the high seas."

-Matt Gianni, senior adviser, Protecting the Deep Sea

NEAFC's five members—the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Russia, and Denmark (on behalf of the Faroe Islands and Greenland)—cited the sheer complexity of deep-sea fisheries in explaining the decision. The member countries agreed to schedule further work on this issue in early 2013.

Pew and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) had hoped that NEAFC would complete the task this week, but both groups lauded the commission for the positive results from the meeting.

“By extending the targeted shark fishing ban, NEAFC is showing that it will act to protect deep-sea species,” said Matt Gianni, a senior adviser to Pew and a co-founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “We wish the commission had done more to really safeguard the deep sea from destructive fishing, but we feel the decision to keep working rather than prematurely terminate the process is for the best.”

Gianni, who attended the meeting, added: “NEAFC countries must ensure that these fisheries are managed sustainably and must implement effective conservation measures for deep-sea species fished on the high seas. Dozens of species are known to be caught in deep-sea fisheries on the high seas in NEAFC's management area, and most are believed to have been heavily depleted.”

The commission also rejected an EU proposal to close the fishery for orange roughy, which ICES had recommended because of depletion of the species. Denmark joined Russia in blocking the EU proposal. A proposal from Norway to limit for the first time the catch of grenadiers on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, one of the largest deep-sea fisheries under NEAFC's control, failed to get sufficient support from other commission members.

Pew and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition call on NEAFC member countries to redouble efforts to bring their deep-sea regulations fully into line with international commitments to protect deep-sea species and ecosystems.

Media Contact: John Briley

Topics: Oceans, Environment

Project: Protecting the Deep Sea