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Dear Mrs Assunção Cristas,
Minister of Agriculture and Sea
(cc: Minister of Environment, Spatial Planning and Energy; Secretary of State of the Sea)
Lisbon, 30th of July 2014
Subject: Extending Portugal’s protection of the deep sea
Dear Mrs Assunção Cristas,
We welcome your decision to approve ordinance n.º 114/2014, which regulates deep-sea fisheries in an immense area within the 200 mile limits and on the high seas in the area covered by Portugal’s extended continental shelf under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We particularly appreciate the fact that it stops Portuguese vessels from using the most destructive fishing gears – deep-sea bottom trawling and bottom gillnetting.
The new regulation, which complements and expands on an EU regulation adopted in 2005 to prohibit bottom trawling and bottom gillnetting below 200 metres in Azores and Madeira waters, is an exceptional step for the protection of deep-sea ecosystems such as cold-water corals and seamounts from the harmful impact of these fishing methods.
Portugal should now take the next step to ensure that these areas are also effectively protected from bottom trawling and gillnet fishing by vessels from other countries.
The European Council of Ministers is currently debating a new regulation for the management of deep-sea fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic. European Commissioner Maria Damanaki has proposed a phase-out of the use of bottom trawls and bottom gillnets in the deep sea and a shift to low impact, selective fishing gears and practices.
Now that the new ordinance prohibits Portuguese vessels from deep-sea bottom trawling in the high seas surrounding the Azores and Madeira Islands, we hope Portugal will take a lead in Council negotiations to ensure that deep-sea bottom trawling and gillnet fishing by vessels from other EU countries is also prohibited in these areas, as well as elsewhere in EU waters and on the high seas of the Northeast Atlantic.
We understand that Portugal has put forward its position on the proposal at Council but, as far as we know, the position has not been made public. We urge Portugal to publicly clarify its position, in the interest of transparency, and to allow for informed public debate on the national position on this critical piece of EU legislation. In particular, we are interested to know if the government supports the Commission proposal for a phase-out of deep-sea bottom trawl and gillnet fishing, and provisions adopted by the European Parliament that would, amongst other measures, require impact assessments for deep-sea fisheries.
As you know, deep-sea bottom trawling is widely recognized to be one of the most destructive fishing practices and the most serious threat to deep-sea ecosystems in the Northeast Atlantic. Two recent studies reinforce the scientific concern about the impact of bottom trawling in the deep-sea:
– A study published in April this year in Nature Scientific Reports by Azorean researchers from the Departamento de Oceanografia e Pescas at the Universidade dos Açores found that the negative impact of bottom trawling on deep-water corals and sponges on seamounts in the Northeast Atlantic is likely to be 296–1,719 times higher than the impact of deep-sea longline fishing – the fishing technique used by Portuguese fishermen in the Azores and Madeira Islands. The study’s authors concluded that “deep-sea bottom trawling is the most destructive form of deep-sea fishing and an issue of global concern” and that “unless some radical changes in governance and management are being made, damages to deep-sea ecosystems will soon be irreversible.”
– New research in May this year published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences found that “intensive and chronic bottom trawling is deemed to transform large portions of the deep continental slope into faunal deserts and highly degraded seascapes”. The study concluded that bottom trawling “represents a major threat to the deep seafloor ecosystem at the global scale”.
Finally, we would note that over the past decade the issue of destructive deep-sea fishing on the high seas has been the subject of extensive negotiation at the UN General Assembly, and in meetings of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation – negotiations in which Portugal has played a significant and constructive role. We urge a similar approach to the negotiations for a new EU regulation for the management of deep-sea fisheries to protect biodiversity in the marine environment and ensure sustainable deep-sea fisheries.
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 Pham et al. (2014). Deep-water longline fishing has reduced impact on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems. Scientific Reports, 4, 4837, doi:10.1038/srep04837
 Pusceddu et al. (2014). Chronic and intensive bottom trawling impairs deep-sea biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.