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EC Urges International Action On Deep Sea Fishing

by Ulrika Lomas, for, Brussels

04 October 2006

The European Commission, on behalf of the European Union, will this week propose to the United Nations General Assembly a coherent package of international measures which can deliver real protection for sensitive deep sea ecosystems and related vulnerable fish stocks.

The actions sought include an immediate freeze on the expansion of deep sea fishing in regulated areas with bottom gears, further efforts to complete the process of identifying and protecting all sensitive ecosystems in areas currently covered by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and the immediate prohibition by flag states of destructive fishing methods by their vessels on the sites of sensitive marine habitats in unregulated areas, until they can be guaranteed a high level of protection through the creation of new RFMOs, or through appropriate interim arrangements.

The EU's position is set out in a Commission working document on destructive fishing practices in the high seas which was published last week.

Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe Borg observed that:

“Protecting the vulnerable deep sea environment is essential for the future of fisheries and other marine resources. The EU will present to the UN a set of realistic, effective and enforceable proposals that can be implemented expeditiously. Vulnerable deep sea habitats should be declared off limits for destructive fishing practices."

"Our proposals cover new ground including concrete and legally binding flag states arrangements, where no such regulation exists so far. They will, also give RFMOs real clout in prohibiting destructive practices in vulnerable habitats."

The European Union proposal contains a number of elements which not only set objectives but also specify the necessary regulatory and control mechanisms to realise them.

The EU calls on the UN General Assembly to:

  • Declare that its overall objective is that all necessary measures be taken to ensure that vulnerable marine habitats are protected from the adverse impacts of destructive fishing practices;
  • Request states to declare such vulnerable marine habitats off limits to fishing with any bottom gear (including bottom trawling, towed dredges, bottom gill nets and certain kinds of long line); and
  • Require states to take urgent steps to collect information with a view to the identification and mapping of vulnerable habitats, in close cooperation with the relevant scientific bodies.

In areas already covered by an RFMO, the Commission calls for an immediate freeze on any expansion of deep sea fishing with bottom gears until an appropriate regulatory regime has been established. Such regime would rest on the closure of all vulnerable marine habitats identified on the basis of scientific advice to bottom fishing.

In areas not yet covered by an RFMO, the Commission calls on all states to implement an interim prohibition on destructive fishing practices by vessels flying their flag wherever there may be vulnerable marine habitats.

It also calls for urgent action to set up RFMOs in the currently unregulated areas of the world's oceans. In the interim, all states concerned should agree on mechanisms to collate scientific advice and to introduce measures for stock conservation and the protection of vulnerable habitats.

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