The ban on bottom trawling in deep waters has been effective in protecting deep-sea fish species according to an evaluation released today
The ban on bottom trawling in deep waters, adopted by the EU in 2016, has been effective in protecting deep-sea fish, according to the evaluation of the Deep-sea Access Regulation released today.
The Deep-sea Access Regulation introduced unprecedented conservation and management measures to protect deep-sea species and their habitats, called vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs). In line with the Biodiversity Strategy 2030, it limits the use of fishing gear most harmful to biodiversity, including on the seabed. Thanks to the ban on bottom trawling below 800 metres, fish such as grenadier, orange roughy and black scabbardfish became less accessible to trawlers and, as a result, their catches decreased. The evaluation carried by the European Commission also shows a drop in bycatches of deep-sea sharks.
The observer coverage put in place by the regulation has helped improve scientific knowledge of the deep-sea species, while vessels targeting or catching deep-sea species as by-catch are identified and controlled via a strict authorisation scheme.
The regulation, however, has not yet been fully implemented. In fact, the protection of VMEs has seen little progress since 2016 due to important data gaps leading to delays in scientific advice, finally issued on 5 January 2021. The evaluation of the regulation underlines the need to adopt the necessary measures (implementing act) to set the limits for deep-sea fishing in EU waters (i.e. fishing footprint) and to close VME areas to all bottom gears below 400 metres.
These conclusions are supported by a public consultation carried out in 2020, in which 90% of respondents agreed that “an EU regulatory framework is essential to ensure consistency in the protection of the deep-sea environment by different Member States” and 85% of respondents strongly agreed that the “need to prevent significant adverse impacts on VMEs and to ensure the long-term conservation of deep-sea fish stocks” remains relevant today.
The evaluation concludes that the regulation, with the provisions implemented so far, is fit for purpose according to the five criteria (relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and EU added-value) set out by the European Commission’s Better Regulation screening. Based on the new scientific advice, the European Commission will propose a set of measures (implementing act) to fix the fishing footprint and to close VME areas before the end of 2021.