Analysis

EU Ministers Allow Continued Overfishing of Deep-Sea Fish Stocks

Decision is not consistent with new Common Fisheries Policy

The European Union’s Council of Fisheries Ministers on Nov. 10 agreed to 2015 and 2016 fishing limits for deep-sea fish stocks that exceed the levels recommended by the scientific advice. In setting the total allowable catches (TACs) for EU vessels, the 28 member state ministers responsible for fisheries also did not follow the recently reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). A fundamental element of the CFP is a requirement to end overfishing by 2015 where possible and by 2020 at the latest.

“Ministers responsible for fisheries have disregarded a key component of the new Common Fisheries Policy by deciding to continue the overfishing of vulnerable deep-sea fish stocks in 2015 and 2016,” said Uta Bellion, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ European marine programme. “The policy allows exceptions to efforts to end overfishing in 2015 only where there is evidence that such steps would seriously jeopardise the social and economic sustainability of the fishing fleets involved. No such evidence was presented today.”

The European Commission had recommended fishing limits for most deep-sea stocks that were in line with scientific advice and the reformed CFP. Where it did not, ministers had the option of deciding on more precautionary limits. Instead, they set fishing levels higher than the advice for the majority of TACs.

Deep-sea fish species are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they generally live longer, grow more slowly, mature later, and spawn fewer young than many other fish species. In addition, a number of deep-sea stocks in the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean have already been significantly depleted.

“The ministers’ decision demonstrates a disregard for both the marine environment and those fishermen who rely upon it for their livelihoods. We urge ministers to make sustainable choices for both when deciding on fishing limits for the majority of EU stocks at their next meeting in December,” Bellion said.

Since January, fisheries ministers have been considering a proposal from the European Commission for a regulation in north-east Atlantic waters that would require strict catch limits on deep-sea species, environmental impact assessments before fishing, and a phasing out of the most destructive fishing practices, such as deep-sea bottom trawling. Until a regulation with these elements is adopted, setting TACs for deep-sea species will not guarantee sustainable deep-sea fisheries.

The deep sea is the area of the ocean lying below the outer edge of the continental shelf. Temperatures are low, and little or no light penetrates these waters. Nonetheless, deep-sea ecosystems are recognized to be high in biodiversity, with many fish species. Deep-sea species are exceptionally vulnerable to overexploitation, however, because they live in environments that are rarely disturbed and because they mature late and tend to live for many years.

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