On Wednesday the Environment Committee of the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of total reform of the EU’s deep-sea fishing Regulation by 58 votes to one. The vote by the Environment Committee, based on a proposal from Member of European Parliament (MEP) Anna Rosbach, would establish a rigorous science based process to setting quotas to fish deep-sea species, prevent the bycatch of the most vulnerable deep-sea species, require prior impact assessments for all deep-sea bottom fisheries, and phase-out deep-sea bottom trawl fishing and bottom gillnet fishing.
Hailed by campaigners as a very positive sign for the future of the regulation of deep-sea fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic which would achieve much needed protection for deep-sea species and ecosystems, the vote was welcomed as in line with public opinion which has consistently supported greater protection for the deep ocean.
Conversely, the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament, the lead Committee on the deep-sea legislation, is now mired in delays. In a closed door meeting on Thursday just before the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee formally convened, a group of Members of the Fisheries Committee acting on behalf of Europeche and the deep-sea trawl industry, forced a delay in the vote on the deep-sea fisheries regulation. Initially scheduled for this April, the vote is now likely to be postponed until July at the earliest and possibly sometime after the European summer. The Fisheries Committee must vote on the legislation before it can be considered by the European Parliament as a whole. Only then can negotiations begin between the Parliament and the European Council which together will decide on the final legislation.
“The vote by the Environment Committee clearly shows that many Members of European Parliament recognize that a fundamental reform of the management of deep-sea fisheries is needed and have voted decisively to do so. However a majority of the Members of the Fisheries Committee imposed a delay on the legislative process in the full knowledge that that Parliament may run out of time to adopt a new regulation before next year’s Parliamentary elections. It is a blatant delay tactic to facilitate the deep-sea trawl fishing industry’s desire to weaken or kill the regulation”, said Matthew Gianni, Political and Policy Advisor of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.
The French government has consistently attempted to delay the EU process of adopting new deep-sea fisheries legislation. Several Spanish, Polish, Scottish and Irish MEPs joined the French Socialist and Conservative MEPs on the Fisheries Committee to force the delay in the process. When the Committee then formally convened Thursday morning, a proposal from Kriton Arsenis, the lead MEP on the deep-sea fisheries legislation in the Fisheries Committee was presented and debated. Mr. Arsenis’ proposal, similar to the one voted by the Environment Committee, was backed by a number of MEPs on the Committee, including those from the Green Party. However, in the debate that followed, several MEPs engaged in scaremongering, claiming that phasing out bottom trawling in the deep-sea may lead to a ban on bottom trawl fishing everywhere and, according to one French MEP, even any fishing at all. These claims were similar to those made by the deep-sea trawl industry ten years ago when the UN General Assembly first began debating the need to managing deep-sea fisheries on the high seas but eventually were dropped as participants in the negotiations at the United Nations recognized them as scare tactics and spurious.
“We hope to see a shift from a reactionary approach to deep-sea fisheries legislation by a number of the Members of the Fisheries Committee to a concrete discussion on the real measures needed to sustainably manage deep-sea fisheries and protect deep-sea ecosystems” concluded Gianni.