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Review of the EU Commission’s Proposal to Ban Deep-Sea Trawling

July 25, 2012

As I blogged yesterday, the EU Commission recently put forward a proposal to ban all deep-sea bottom trawling in the Northeast Atlantic by EU vessels.  This is a milestone in deep-sea conservation as the EU is one of the greatest players in deep-sea fishing in the world.

So what does this proposal look like? Does it go far enough?  What can we expect next?

I looked through the EU Commission’s proposal and in general it offers many needed improvements to the EU’s deep-sea management regime.  (Again, see yesterday’s blog for more on the management problems.)  Apart from the recommendation to phase out all deep-sea bottom trawling in the Northeast Atlantic, there is very strong language on the application of the precautionary approach and much clearer penalties for non-compliance (i.e. revocation of deep-sea fishing permit).

Earlier this year the Pew Environment Group put out a white paper on the EU’s deep-sea fisheries management regime and offered a set of 10 recommendations.  Below I do a recommendation by recommendation assessment.  If you aren’t interested in digging in, pop down to the bottom for a consideration of what’s next.

Recommendation #1: Incorporate a clear mandate for sustainable management.

Grade: A+.  The existing regulation makes no mention of objectives, let alone sustainability. Meanwhile, article 1 of the proposal lays out the following:

The objectives of this Regulation are the following:

(a) to ensure the sustainable exploitation of deep-sea species while minimising the impact of deep-sea fishing activities on the marine environment;

And even more importantly, this plays out in the management targets stated in article 10. Specifically, MSY is the management target, and where the science doesn’t allow its determination, fishing opportunities shall be set at or below exploitation rates identified as corresponding to the precautionary approach by scientific authorities.  And where this isn’t possible…well…get this:

b) where the best scientific information available does not identify exploitation rates corresponding to the precautionary approach to fisheries management due to lack of sufficient data concerning a certain stock or species, no fishing opportunities may be allocated for the fisheries concerned.

Recommendation #2: Phase out the use of destructive fishing practices and gear.

Grade: A+.  A full phase out of bottom trawls and bottom-set gillnets is called for in Article 9:

Fishing authorisations referred to in Article 4(1) for vessels using bottom trawls or bottom-set gillnets shall expire at the latest two years after the entry into force of this Regulation. After that date,fishing authorisations targeting deep-sea species with those gears shall neither be issued nor renewed.

Recommendation #3: Require that impact assessments are performed prior to deep-sea fishing.

Grade: C.  There is no mention of applying this measure in the Northeast Atlantic even though it is recognized in the notes that this is the standard on the high seas and in EU regulations for deep-sea fishing outside of the Northeast Atlantic.  The reason?  The Commission saw the other measures being proposed as being sufficient to reduce the environmental impact of deep-sea fishing and that impact assessments would add a lot of management challenges.  In my view, that’s a pretty fair assessment, so I award a poor but passing grade.  Here’s the excerpt:

The two options with relative advantage were: (d) to phase out the most harmful fishing gears targeting deep-sea species, or (e) to introduce in Union waters management standards that were developed for bottom fishing on the High Sea. Option (d) was retained as being a more effective and simpler instrument, while option (e) would result in adding extensive regulatory requirements and their inherent constraints to investment to a fishery already in decline.

Recommendation #4: Implement area closures where significant adverse impacts on VMEs are known or are likely to occur.

Grade: F.  There’s no mention of establishing additional area closures in any systematic way.  I think this is a major failing of the regulation.

Recommendation #5: Regulate all deep-sea fishing operations, defined as fishing below 400m, and the catch of all deep-sea species.

Grade: B.  The application of the deep-sea management regime was actually weakened.  Where before, anyone catching more than 10 tonnes of deep-sea species each calendar year would get an authorization, now it applies only to vessels with gears identified as ‘deep-sea gear’, fishing plans declaring deep-sea species as their target, or records indicating that 10% or more of the days catch in a fishing day consists of deep-sea species.  To me, it makes sense to limit the application of the regulation in this way, particularly as deep-sea trawling and gill-netting will be phased out.  I’ll assume, also, that ‘deep-sea gears’ will party be identified by the typically depth at which they are deployed.  This change up in the regulation also seems to help the member states meet their data reporting requirements.  The Commission indicates in the proposal’s notes that member states find the regulation to be reaching:

Member States highlighted the limited value of effort reporting, effort management and capacity management in the current set-up, in particular in view of the fact that the registered capacity (based on the authorisations issued) does not really match the reality of the fishery. Too many vessels seem to have an authorisation to fish deep-sea species which make up only a small proportion of their total catches. Such vessels do not really belong in a deep-sea fishing métier.

Recommendation #6: Regulate deep-sea catches, not just deep-sea landings.

Grade: C+.  The Commission put forward a requirement that all vessels are required to allow observers on-board for the purposes of scientific assessment. Though the member state is responsible for assigning such observers, the regulation in Annex II of the proposal lays out an important reporting requirements.

Discards shall be sampled in all deep-sea métiers. The sampling strategy for landings and discards shall cover all the species listed in Annex I as well as species belonging to the seabed ecosystem such as deep-water corals, sponges or other organisms belonging to the same ecosystem.

As written, there’s still a lot of room to ignore discards, but things are looking far better than the past system.

Recommendation #7: Reduce bycatch of deep-sea species and end discarding. 

Grade: B+. Bycatch will be greatly reduced by the phase out of deep-sea trawling and gillnets as discussed above.  A problem, as I see it, is that discarding is poorly treated in the regulation.  In article 12, there is a small bit on how discard reduction measures may be applied in deep-sea fisheries managed on the basis of effort, but this is no guarantee it’ll happen.  It seems to me the EU Commission might want to leave this issue alone here so as to deal with the broader discard discussion in other fora.

Recommendation #8: Require that more detailed fishing plans are to be submitted prior to deep-sea fishing.

Grade: A. The recommendation was fully implemented, nothing more, nothing less. According to article 7 of the proposal, every application for a deep-sea fishing permit will require:

(a) the locations of the intended activities targeting deep-sea species in the deepsea métier. The location(s) shall be defined by coordinates in accordance with the World Geodetic System of 1984;

(b) the locations, if any, of activities in the deep-sea métier during the last three full calendar years. Those location(s) shall be defined by coordinates in accordance with the World Geodetic System of 1984 and they shall circumscribe the fishing activities as closely as possible.


Any fishing authorisation issued on the basis of an application made in accordance with paragraph 1 shall specify the bottom gear to be used and limit the fishing activities authorised to the area in which the intended fishing activity, as set out in paragraph 1(a), and the existing fishing activity, as set out in paragraph 1(b), overlap.

Recommendation #9: Effectively manage fishing capacity and effort in deep-sea fisheries.

Grade: A. The capacity rule is significant strengthened in the proposal as it puts forward a progressive limit on capacity (never more than the member state’s highest aggregate capacity in the preceding 2 years).  The past rule set the capacity limit at an unrealistically high level.

Article 5 states:

The aggregate fishing capacity measured in gross tonnage and in kilowatt of all fishing vessels holding a fishing authorisation issued by a Member State, allowing the catch of deep-sea species, whether as target or by-catch species, shall at no time exceed the aggregate fishing capacity of vessels of that Member State which have landed 10 tonnes or more of deep-sea species during any of the two calendar years preceding the entry into force of this Regulation, whichever year provides the higher figure. [bold added]

Recommendation #10: Improve reporting, monitoring, and compliance in deep-sea fisheries.

Grade: A.  The proposal puts forward clear guidelines for fisheries monitoring, simplifies the reporting process, and standardizes the data.  At the same time, it is made clear that non-compliant vessels can lose their deep-sea fishing permits.

From the notes:

Monitoring of fishing effort can better be ensured as a regular exercise by annual data calls under the Data Collection Framework , accompanied by ad hoc administrative reporting requests from the Commission, the latter to be used for instance where there are doubts on the compliance with effort limits or when the data quality is insufficient. The scope of the Regulation has been refined in order to ensure that this Regulation fully concerns vessels which are targeting deep-sea species, while ensuring that vessels which have these species in their by-catch do not expand the fishery. Furthermore, the specific data collection rules will be aligned with the Data Collection Framework, ensuring that Member States use the same statistical standards and feed the collected data into one unique storage and processing system. Non-compliance with scientific data collection standards would result in the subsequent loss of fishing opportunities as a precautionary management measure.

This sums up pretty well what is laid out in the proposal.

What’s Next

From here, the EU Commission’s proposal will go to the European Parliament and the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council for review and possible amendment. Traditionally the EU Commission puts out a draft that then gets watered down, so I’m a bit nervous here.  Without any discussion of impact assessments or area closures in the proposal’s text, this amazing proposal could easily be gutted if the phase-out of deep-sea trawls and gillnets is taken out.  And…well…things are already looking fierce from France and Spain – two influential member states and two of the biggest deep-sea fishing countries in the EU.

It’s hard to say how long it will take to get a final and approved piece of legislation, but we might expect something in the next 8 months to a year.  I’ll be sure to publish a follow up post at that time.

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