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Fisheries ministers disregard their legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020 in the deep sea

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Brussels, 19th November 2018 – Seas At Risk is deeply disappointed by the decisions on fishing limits for deep sea fish stocks for 2019-2020 taken by the Fisheries’ Council of Ministers tonight. This was the very last opportunity fisheries ministers had to end overfishing of deep sea species by 2015 or at the latest by 2020, as legally required under the Common Fisheries Policy. However, the ministers failed to achieve this.

Andrea Ripol, Policy Officer of Seas At Risk said: “The ministers decided to allow continued fishing of roundnose grenadier, which is classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This puts the species in a worse position than for example the Giant Panda which is classified as vulnerable”. Several deep sea shark species are also classified as endangered or critically endangered, but the Council decided to allow the bycatch of these species instead of ensuring that deep water fisheries are managed to prevent the catch of endangered species.

In addition, the ministers agreed on higher quota than scientists advised for fish stocks of red seabream and alfonsinos, thus sanctioning overfishing. Worse even, following a proposal by the European Commission, the ministers removed fishing limits of six stocks of black scabbardfish, roundnose grenadier and greater forkbeard, removing these stocks from the quota system, rendering them basically unmanaged without any cap on the catches nor any alternative management plan. This is particularly concerning for black scabbard in the North Sea and Skagerrak area, where no scientific argument was provided to justify such a decision. These stocks now join many of the unmanaged and unregulated deep sea stocks that are caught as by-catch in deep sea fisheries which impact the entire deep sea ecosystem.

Andrea Ripol, added: “Five years ago European citizens asked for an end to overfishing, and the European fisheries ministers agreed to a legal obligation to achieve this by 2015, and 2020 at the latest. Today the ministers were put to the test on their obligation, with the first tranche of fishing limits agreed for 2020. And they failed miserably, ignoring the law, the wish of European citizens, and the serious consequences for the already vulnerable European deep sea fish stocks. For the short term benefit of a tiny section of the European fishing fleet which will inevitably be further reduced with decreasing fish stocks due to continued overfishing.”

Deep-sea species are generally slow-growing, late-maturing and have a low reproductive rate, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Very little is known about the status of most of the deep sea stocks, but declining catches indicate unsustainable fisheries. For stocks with very limited data, the Common Fisheries Policy prescribes to apply the precautionary approach, affording to these stocks at least a comparable degree of conservation as to those stocks for which it is known what the sustainable catch level is. The advice the scientists gave for the deep sea stocks aimed at avoiding stock collapse rather than sustainable catch levels aimed at recovering the stocks to healthy levels. The fisheries ministers should therefore have  set the fishing opportunities well below the maximum precautionary level advised by the scientific community, and under no circumstances should have the advice been exceeded.

In a related development, at its Annual Meeting last week in London, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission failed to agree effective management measures for deep sea stocks in the high seas of the North East Atlantic. Many of these stocks straddle the European waters and are the very same stocks on which the Council decided. The North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission is responsible for the management of fish stocks in the high seas of the North East Atlantic, and its Contracting Parties are Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland), the European Union, Iceland, Norway, and the Russian Federation.

On December 17 2018, European Ministers will meet again to agree on other fishing quotas, this time for the North East Atlantic for 2019. However, the outcome of the current Council decision does not bode well.

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