The Director-General of DG MARE, Charline Vitcheva has replied to EAPO on the issue of the banning of deep-sea bottom fishing in VMEs

The Director-General of DG MARE, Charline Vitcheva has replied to EAPO on the issue of the banning of deep-sea bottom fishing in VMEs

The head of DG MARE, Charlina Vitcheva has replied to the European Association of fish Producers on the issue of the banning of deep-sea bottom fishing in VMEs.

The EAPO had written to the DG MARE with its position paper on deep sea fishing in vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) between 400m and 800m deep along the coast of Spain, France and Ireland.

In late May, the Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture had voted in favour of the Commission’s proposal to close vulnerable areas to fishing gear which touched the seabed. 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.

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The EAPO has criticised the decision, telling the Director-General that there are less regulations on deep-sea mining than there is in relation to bottom-fishing. In their letter to DG MARE, the Association said that the stakeholders should have been consulted on the locations of the VMEs and that the Commission’s proposals would have a detrimental effect on the fishing fleet that is struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the spatial squeeze due to the expansion of offshore wind farms and marine protected areas, and the subsequent fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in increasing fuel costs.

In her reply to Ebsen Sverdrup-Jensen, the President of the EAPO, the Director-General of DG MARE aid that that her department had carried out exentvie condultations with stakeholders over a period of two years to inform Member States, Advisory Councils and stakeholders of all technicalities, She said:

“All Advisory Councils were invited to attend the stakeholder workshop of 1-3 September 2020 to prepare the advice and they were subsequently requested by ICES to provide written feedback on their preferred management options. All Member States were invited to attend two ICES workshops to prepare the advice, in October 2019 in Copenhagen and during the stakeholder workshop of 1-3 September 2020.

“In addition, Member States participated to more than five bilateral and multilateral meetings with the Commission services, dedicated to the preparation of the advice and of the Commission proposal. At each step of the way, numerous opportunities for feedback were provided and we strongly encouraged stakeholder participation directly and via the national administrations.

“Finally, the Advisory Councils were briefed at an Inter-Advisory Council meeting in January 2022 about the ICES advice and the preferred management approach by the Commission. No comment or remark was expressed by any Advisory Council or by the sector at that moment.”

In relation to the impacts of the closure of the VMEs she said:

“Let me stress that the Commission has paid particular attention to the socio-economic impact by choosing the scenario that takes into account the fishing activity and intensity, among the 4 scenarios and options advised by ICES. Indeed, scenario 2, option 1 is the scenario which “offers VME protection at low cost for the fishers and the highest protection of VMEs in the fishing footprint”.

“The advantage of this scenario is that it does not close the highly fished zones to avoid disrupting fishing activities and thus strikes the balance between the best protection for VMEs and the least disruption of fishing.”

In relation to Brexit and the rising cost of fuel, she pointed Mr Sverdrup-Jensen to the package of aid that has been made available to the fishing fleet through the Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund and the activation of mechanisms within the EMFAF (EMFF) which allows members states to provide financial assistance to struggling boat owners.

On the issue of there being more regulations on deep-sea fishing compared to deep-sea mining, Ms Vitcheva said:

“In relation to your view that environmental regulations set for fishing activities are much stricter than the ones needed for deep sea mining, I would like to stress that the Commission took a firm stance on deep-sea mining on 24 June in its Communication on the EU’s International Ocean Governance “Setting the course for a sustainable blue planet”. Its position is clear: “Protect the seabed: Prohibit deep-sea mining until scientific gaps are properly filled, no harmful effects arise from mining and marine environment is effectively protected”.

“I agree with you that deep-sea mining must take place in the least harmful way for the environment. This is why the Commission financed research to increase knowledge about the potential effects of deep-sea mining. The EU position is that exploitation of marine minerals in the High seas should not go ahead until relevant scientific gaps are filled, that it can be demonstrated that no harmful effects arise from mining and, as required under UNCLOS, the necessary provisions in exploitation regulations for effective protection of marine environment are in place (i.e. the Mining Code, to be developed by International Seabed Authority).”

The Director-General then informs the EAPO President of the procedure for the adoption of the draft implementing act:

“I would also like to take this opportunity to inform you on the procedure for the adoption of the draft implementing act. The draft Commission proposal has been submitted to the agreement of the Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture on 28 June, composed of representatives of each EU Member State. Following the committee vote (no opinion, meaning that the Committee is split with no majority in favour or against), the Commission is allowed to adopt the measure.

“Prior to the adoption however, the Commission has to notify the draft measures to the UK in line with the TCA. This notification has taken place and the UK was given two months, until beginning September 2022, to provide comments.”

On how permanent the closure of the selected VMEs was, the Director-General said that there was nothing set-in-stone:

“Let me furthermore explain, that we are at the beginning of a process as the scientific advice by ICES will be reviewed every year. Where justified, this revision by ICES could lead to a revision of the areas closed to bottom contacting gears.

“Therefore, my services have invited the Advisory Councils and other representatives of the fishing sector for a new meeting on 26 July to prepare the next ICES advice that will come in October/November 2022. I understand that you have been invited to attend this meeting. I would invite you and your members to work together with the administrations of the concerned Member States and deliver all data on where fishing activities take place. This is the best way forward for the scientific advice to be able to take such fishing activities into account with accuracy in the new advice.

“We are also encouraging all relevant national administrations to provide the necessary data to ICES. It is the only way to have a fully informed advice.”

by Oliver McBride

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Director-General replies to EAPO position on VMEs closure to bottom fishing

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