Thursday, July 19, 2012

EU Commission Makes History with Proposal to Phase Out Bottom Trawling for Deep-Sea Species

Proposal to relegate destructive deep-sea bottom trawl nets to history positions Commissioner Damanaki as a global defender of vulnerable ocean life.

BRUSSELS, (19.07.12) — In a move that will help protect one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth, the European Commission today proposed phasing out destructive bottom trawling and bottom gillnetting among deep sea fishing fleets in the Northeast Atlantic. The Pew Environment Group praised EC Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, for the bold proposal to finally put an end to these unsustainable and destructive deep-sea fishing methods. Marine scientists have roundly concluded that deep-sea bottom trawling is the most direct and widespread threat to fragile deep-sea ecosystems. These ecosystems harbor a diversity of life — much of it as yet unidentified — that may exceed the biodiversity found in the Amazon rainforest.

“We congratulate Commissioner Damanaki on her leadership today in proposing a thorough overhaul of the management of deep-sea fisheries and taking the first step towards phasing out one of the most destructive fishing practices in use today,” commented Matthew Gianni, policy advisor to the Pew Environment Group and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “It is now up to EU fisheries ministers and the European Parliament to show similar resolve by adopting legislation to implement the Commissioner’s proposal and put an end to destructive deep-sea fishing practices.”

The European Union’s (EU) deep-sea fishing fleet is one of the largest in the world. In the heavily exploited Northeast Atlantic the EU is responsible for 75 percent of the total catch of deep-sea species. “If the Commission proposal is adopted, it would transform the EU into a global defender of deep-sea marine life by protecting vulnerable deep-sea species and ecosystems from the harmful impacts of destructive bottom fishing,” continued Gianni.

Out of the Abyss, a policy analysis issued earlier this year by the Pew Environment Group, suggested ways that the EU could reform its deep-sea fishing regulations in line with a series of United Nations General Assembly resolutions on protecting vulnerable deep-sea life. The phase out of destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling for deep-sea species is one of Pew’s key recommendations.

Pew supports the Commission proposal but urges the European Parliament and EU member states to strengthen it further by: requiring impact assessments for all deep-sea fisheries, not just new fisheries; requiring closure of deep-sea areas to fishing where vulnerable marine species are known or likely to occur unless these areas can be managed to prevent significant adverse impacts; requiring that all catch, including bycatch, be sustainable; and that all bycatch be landed unless there is an adequate justification (e.g. high survival potential) for throwing catch back.

France and Spain operate the largest deep-sea bottom trawl fleets in the Northeast Atlantic. The Pew Environment Group is calling on France and Spain to emulate the leadership shown by Maria Damanaki and work to adopt a regulation based on the Commission proposal incorporating the additional measures outlined above.


1. UN General Assembly Resolutions 59/25 (2004), 61/105 (2006), 64/72 (2009) and 66/68 (2011). Sustainable fisheries resolutions, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments. United Nations General Assembly.

2. Pew Environment Group (2012). Out of the Abyss: Transforming EU rules to protect the deep sea. Pew Environment Group. Washington, D.C. January 2012. Available online at:

Photo courtesy of the Pew Environment Group