The European Commission wants to tighten its oversight of deep-sea habitat, proposing yesterday to phase out deep-sea trawling, reduce discards of unwanted fish, and implement scientific quotas for fishing. "If you want to take deep-sea fish, you have to do it in a sustainable manner," says Oliver Drewes, a commission spokesperson for maritime affairs and fisheries.
Only 1% of fish caught in the Northeast Atlantic come from the deep sea, including species such as black scabbard and red sea bream. The amounts aren't huge—34 tons in 2008—compared to more fecund, faster growing fish in shallower waters, but they have been declining due to overfishing. Worse, the methods used to catch them are particularly destructive of fragile deep-sea habitat, which includes slow-growing coral reefs thousands of years old. There's other collateral damage, too: Trawling and bottom-set gillnets (which are left on the seafloor and then hauled up) can contain up to 20% "bycatch" of unwanted species, such as deepwater sharks.
The commission's proposal is part of a larger effort to improve the management and health of European fisheries. It was also inspired by calls by the United Nations General Assembly over the past decade to protect deep-sea habitat in international waters. The proposal would phase out licenses for deep-sea trawling 2 years after the regulation is approved, require strict quotas for deep-sea species that lack solid scientific data on the size of populations, and require impact assessments for opening new areas to deep-sea bottom fishing. It would apply to all the economic exclusive zones of E.U. countries and international waters of the Northeast Atlantic.