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Marine Science

PROTECT DEEP-SEA BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOTS

PROTECT DEEP-SEA BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOTS

The European Commission has today published the results of its evaluation of the 2016 EU deep-sea fisheries Regulation, concluding that the Regulation is ‘fit for purpose’ but nonetheless highlighting the lack of progress in closing areas to bottom fishing to protect deep-sea corals and other vulnerable marine species and ecosystems where they are known or likely to occur in EU waters

The Commission and EU member States must now and without further delay, fully and urgently implement this key obligation of the Regulation

The EU deep-sea fisheries Regulation, adopted in 2016 after several years of intensive negotiation, bans bottom trawling below 800 metres in EU waters. It also requires the closure of areas of the deep-sea below 400 metres to bottom contact fishing, particularly bottom trawl fishing, where vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) such as deep-sea coral, sponge and other biologically diverse ecosystems are known or likely to occur. These areas include underwater mountains or ‘seamounts’ which are recognized as biodiversity hotspots and around which some species of fish congregate to spawn or feed.

Although no official reports by member States are available, it appears from the evaluation that the ban on bottom trawling below 800 metres is being complied with and contributes to the conservation of some deep-sea fish stocks. However, no progress on the closure of VME areas below 400 metres to bottom fishing has been made to-date in spite of the fact that the Regulation required these closures be put into place at the start of 2018. The results of the evaluation published today highlight the urgent need for implementation of this crucial provision of the Regulation.

The Commission’s evaluation followed an online public survey of the Regulation last year in which the overwhelming majority of respondents support the ban on bottom trawling below 800 metres and stated that VMEs should be protected and more restrictions on bottom trawling should be put into place.

Earlier this year, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) published its scientific advice on areas where VMEs are known or likely to occur and should be closed to bottom trawl fishing. The advice, however, contains a number of options, some affording much less protection than others. The Commission and EU member States are now required to act on the advice and consider the ICES options. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) is urging the European Commission and Member States to support the options that best protect deep-sea ecosystems in EU waters.

The European Commission and member States have consistently committed to halting and reversing biodiversity loss. This is a perfect opportunity to take a significant step forward in putting words into action and protecting deep-sea ecosystems to benefit both biodiversity and to combat climate change” commented Matthew Gianni, DSCC co-founder.

Seamounts in particular are recognized biodiversity hotspots. Closing these to bottom trawl fishing off the coasts of Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal moves the EU much closer to finishing the job it first began with the closure of all seamounts to bottom trawl fishing in the waters surrounding the Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands 15 years ago”, added Gianni.

Ursula von der Leyen and the Heads of State of all member States recently signed the Leaders Pledge for Nature to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 during the UN Biodiversity Summit in September 2020. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration kicks off this year, further reinforcing the commitments made by the EU to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems from the impact of destructive deep-sea bottom trawling. The closures would also help preserve the seabed’s ability to store carbon in sediments in the deep sea, an important ecosystem service highlighted in a study published last month in Nature.

We urge EU Fisheries Ministers to support the most ambitious approach to the protection of these biodiversity hotspots in the deep and take the implementation of the EU deep-sea fisheries Regulation seriously” said Monica Verbeek, Executive Director at Seas At Risk.

The Commission is now expected to publish its formal proposal (an Implementing Act) later this year for the VME areas closures to bottom trawl fishing. The Implementing Act has then to be endorsed by EU member States.