EU bans deep sea trawling

Deep sea trawling causes damage to delicate ecosystems. [William Murphy/Flickr]

Two and a half years after the European Parliament’s surprise refusal, the European institutions on Thursday (30 June) finally agreed to ban trawler fishing at depths of more than 800 metres. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

It took four years of intense negotiations from the European Commission’s initial proposal in July 2012, but a ban on trawling at depths greater than 800 metres in all European waters has finally been agreed.

Breaking with tradition, it was an EU member state (Luxembourg, which held the EU presidency in the second half of 2015) that brought the issue back onto the European agenda after it was rejected by the European Parliament in December 2013.

The European Council gave its approval on 6 November last year, paving the way for trilogue negotiations.

Victory for NGOs

This victory is largely down to the efforts of ocean protection NGOs, like Bloom and Pew, which have spent eight years campaigning to protect deep sea ecosystems against gill netting and trawling.

“This reform could have been much more ambitious if it had been led by a rapporteur. The MEP Isabelle Thomas (France, S&D group) sold out the regulation by accepting the rollbacks proposed by member states like Spain almost without batting an eyelid,” said Claire Nouvian, the director of Bloom.

The NGO blames the European Parliament’s refusal to ban the practices in 2013 on Thomas, who has close ties with the fishing lobby Blue Fish Europe.

Spain escapes the net

The text accepted on Thursday was significantly watered down compared to versions tabled in previous negotiations. The area covered by the ban is limited to EU waters and the Eastern Central Atlantic Ocean, but does not cover the Northeast Atlantic, as the European Parliament had hoped.

This failure is down to an intense lobbying effort by Spain, whose fleet mainly fishes outside European waters, and so is effectively exempt from the ban. In 2014, Spain’s fishing fleet was the largest in Europe, with 9,895 boats and a gross capacity of 379,209 tonnes.

Protecting vulnerable ecosystems

Beside the 800m depth limit, the regulation also introduces a legally binding ban on fishing in areas that contain vulnerable ecosystems.

“This measure is very important because areas can be closed off based on predictive maps made by scientists. Field observations are very expensive, costing around €25,000 per day. And predictions on the vulnerability of ecosystems, calculated based on currents and seabed topography, are very reliable,” said Nouvian.

“We also encourage the EU to improve the protection of deep sea ecosystems in international waters and to set catch limits in the deep waters of the Northeast Atlantic, based on scientific data,” said Matthew Gianni, a representative of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.

The final regulation will be adopted by the Parliament and the Council this November and will enter into force on 1 January 2017 at the earliest.

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