EU MOVES TO BAN BOTTOM FISHING IN VULNERABLE AREAS
The Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture voted on the European Commission’s proposal to close vulnerable areas to fishing gears which touch the seabed. This proposal aims to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) in deep waters and the Member States’ support brings it step closer to becoming law.
Virginius Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environement, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “The aim of this measure is to protect vulnerable ecosystems from the impact of bottom gears. As I have previously announced, this measure is a concrete step under the EU Biodiversity Strategy to limit the use of fishing gears most harmful to biodiversity in EU waters. It shows the European Commission’s commitment to protecting deep-sea species and their fragile habitats, prone to deterioration, but essential to a healthy marine life. I know this decision requires a great deal of effort from our fisheries sector and I would like to acknowledge its essential role in preserving our ocean and our future.”
In line with the Deep-sea Access Regulation, the conservation measure closes certain zones of the EU deep waters to all bottom gears, ranging from deep-sea long lining to bottom trawling. The measure establishes the closure of 57 vulnerable habitats in the North-East Atlantic, where VMEs, such as sea pens, corals or anemones, are present or where their presence is likely, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) scientists. This is an important step towards the sustainable management of the seas and oceans, in line with the European Green Deal. Furthermore, the Commission adopted the Nature Restoration Law last week, where it committed to restoring marine habitats such as seagrasses or sediment bottoms.
The deep-sea world remains relatively difficult to explore. Scientists have developed a method of evaluating the presence of VMEs according to a high, medium or low index. The act includes all levels of the index, applying the precautionary principle with a minimised disruption of fishing activities.
The measure also fixes a fishing “corridor”, a so-called footprint, which all vessels fishing for deep-sea stocks will have to respect by fishing inside it. The corridor protects pristine areas, as fishing vessels will not be able to operate there to fish for deep-sea species.
The measure was drafted after consultations with Member States and stakeholders, including the fishing industry and NGOs over the past two years. As pointed out in the 2021 evaluation of the Deep-sea Access Regulation , this conservation measure is much anticipated with 90% of the respondents agreeing that“an EU regulatory framework is essential to ensure consistency in the protection of the deep-sea environment by different Member States”.
The Commission proposal had been submitted to the agreement of the Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture, composed of the representatives of each EU Member State. After the committee vote, the Commission is allowed to conclude the procedure and adopt the measure.
The UK will receive formal notification of the pending adoption of the measure and will have two months to provide comments or seek clarification before the Regulation’s entry into force.
The Commission services will soon resume consultations with Member States and stakeholders in view of the latest ICES advice encompassing new data and expected for end of this year.