MEPs quizzed Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli about the Commission implementing a bottom-contact fishing ban in deep-sea VMEs

MEPs quizzed Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, about the Commission implementing a bottom-contact fishing ban in deep-sea VMEs

Some MEPs require updated data and socio-economic impact assessment and ask the Commission to suspend implementation of the regulation until then.

On Thursday MEPs quizzed Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli about Commission´s implementing act that entered into force on 9 October and established deep-sea fishing areas as well as areas with vulnerable marine ecosystems where fishing with bottom-contact gear is prohibited.

Badly timed move

MEPs argued that the Commission decision comes at the wrong time, when rising fuel prices, inflation and food insecurity raise concerns among fishers as well as among consumers. They argued that the Commission did not consult fisheries sector before putting the regulation into effect. Since original data based on which 87 areas were closed to bottom-contact fishing are already obsolete, MEPs asked the Commission to suspend the decision until new data are taken into account. They also argued that socio-economic consequences of this decision will have damaging effect on fisheries communities and will negatively affect food security of the EU – EU will become dependent on imported fisheries products from countries not respecting environmental standards of the Common Fisheries Policy. Furthermore, they criticize the Commission for banning all bottom-contact fishing techniques while there are considerable differences in their impact on the seabed.

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Need to stop seabed destruction

A group of MEPs welcomed Commission´s decision and argued that the sector had time to prepare itself and search for more sustainable fishing methods. This group of MEPs argued that bottom trawling method cause underwater deforestation by damaging corals and other vulnerable species, which take decades to replenish. Moreover, 87 areas to be protected represent just 1,16% of EU waters. They believe protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems is crucial for biodiversity and emphasized that the regulation, which actually banned bottom-contact fishing in deep-sea areas was adopted by the Parliament in 2016. They even called on EU governments to improve their legislation and add new deep-sea areas to the list of vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Commission´s reaction

Commissioner Dalli responded that the Commission´s decision on areas to be protected was based on data provided by the member states and analysed by an international scientific body – International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). The Commissioner noted that the regulation required Commission to establish the vulnerable marine ecosystem areas in 2018, but the final scientific advice was only obtained in February this year. As the Commissioner stressed, the European Commission is bound by the legislation to review this list of protected marine areas annually, so it is subject to regular change based on additional data provided by member states. She acknowledges socio-economic impact of the decision and recommended member states to use resources of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to help the sector.

According to the regulation, 87 areas in North-East Atlantic with vulnerable marine ecosystems such as corals and sea pens require protection and therefore must be closed to fishing activities using bottom-contact gears below 400 meters. The legislation banning bottom-contact gears in deep-sea areas has been in place since 2016. The European Commission consulted member states on the implementing act which allowed it to adopt the measure.

Source: Press Release

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