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E.U. Parliament Committee Adopts Watered-Down Restrictions on Deep-Sea Fishing

5 November 2013 5:00 pm
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A Spanish bottom trawler.

Wikimedia Commons/O roxo

Sailing on. A Spanish bottom trawler.

BRUSSELS—After months of delays, the European Parliament's Fisheries Committee approved a report yesterday to restrict fishing practices deemed destructive for deep-sea ecosystems. But the committee did not back the proposal to ban bottom trawling and gillnetting altogether, an idea put forward by the European Commission in July last year.

Bottom trawling and gillnetting are nonselective methods that catch 20% to 40% of unwanted fish, including vulnerable deep-sea species with long lifespans and slow reproduction rates. About 300 marine scientists have signed a petition in favor of the ban, released in June by a French marine conservation nongovernmental organization called Bloom.

The Fisheries Committee agreed to close off northeast Atlantic areas known (or likely) to harbor vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as sponges and corals, to bottom trawling. “These areas are the spawning and nursing grounds of deep-sea species and their protection will be invaluable in achieving the recovery of deep-sea stocks,” said Kriton Arsenis, the social-democrat Member of Parliament from Greece who authored the committee's report,  in a statement yesterday.

Besides, the committee introduced more stringent rules for data collection and a more robust scientific basis to set sustainable catch limits. It also left the door ajar for a general phaseout later—but only after an assessment of the impact of deep-sea fishing gear on fragile species and marine ecosystems after 4 years.

In a statement, Greenpeace said that the proposed measures are too weak and their effects uncertain, and that bottom trawling and gillnetting should be banned completely. These methods “contribute only around one per cent of the EU’s total catch, yet suck up millions of euros in subsidies, destroy large areas of fragile sea-floor and overfish many deep-sea species,” Greenpeace fisheries expert Saskia Richartz said in the statement.

Other environmental groups are a bit more optimistic. The committee vote hands over the baton to the whole Parliament, which is slated to vote on the issue next month. Bloom and Oceana, a conservation organization in Madrid, hope the plenary—which usually takes a more radical stance than the Fisheries Committee on these issues—will reconsider a full ban.

But there are more steps ahead before any restrictions can be rolled out. The Parliament must also negotiate the legislation with member states, and fisheries ministers haven't even started discussing the issue. Sources close to the negotiations say that France and Spain—where most European deep-sea trawling fisheries are based—have blocked the file.