The European Parliament today agreed to curb fishing practices deemed destructive for deep-sea ecosystems. But it narrowly rejected calls for a complete ban, to the dismay of many scientists and environmental campaigners.
Last month, the Parliament's Fisheries Committee approved a report to restrict bottom trawling and gillnetting in the northeast Atlantic, but rejected the initial proposal to ban them altogether, an idea put forward by the European Commission in July last year.
In a plenary vote held today in Strasbourg, France, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) confirmed the restrictions. A wide majority of MEPs endorsed the whole report, while a narrow majority (342 votes to 326, with 19 abstentions) rejected an amendment calling for a general phaseout of bottom trawling after 2 years.
MEPs did, however, introduce a review clause, requiring an evaluation of the impact of deep-sea fishing gear on vulnerable species and ecosystems after 4 years. If this shows that deep-sea stocks are not well protected, a general ban could then be introduced.
Kriton Arsenis, a social democrat MEP from Greece and the Parliament's negotiator on this topic, voiced his disappointment after the vote. “The Parliament gave in to industry demands and voted against a ban on sea-bed trawling and the move to selective fishing gear,” Arsenis said in a statement.
Justine Maillot, fisheries policy adviser at Greenpeace EU, called the Parliament's decision “half-hearted.” “It is astonishing that subsidised fishing vessels can continue to plough the seafloor with monster nets that crush everything in their path,” she said in a statement.
The European Parliament seemed divided between pro- and anti-trawling countries rather than between the political left and right, observers say. For example, MEPs from France—where several deep-sea fisheries are based—appeared united against the ban regardless of political party.
Claire Nouvian, head of a French marine conservation nongovernmental organization called Bloom, sounded an ironic note: “Congratulations [to French MEPs] for this victory based on lies, which goes against the scientific consensus … and against consumer expectations.”
Just before the vote, two major supermarket chains, Carrefour and Casino, responded to mounting pressure from French consumers and announced that they would gradually stop selling deep-sea fish.
Before any restrictions can be enforced, the Parliament must negotiate the legislation with member states—but fisheries ministers haven't even started discussing the issue. Sources close to the negotiations say that France and Spain have blocked the issue.