MEP defends delay on vote for deep sea fishing ban

Fish2Fork reports, 4th April 2013: “Moves to ban deep sea fishing across Europe have been delayed by just three weeks, an MEP has said [in April 2013], despite fears among environmental campaigners that the proposal has in effect been killed off.

Struan Stevenson MEP

Struan Stevenson MEP. Photo: Struan Stevenson.

Struan Stevenson was one of the MEPs who held up the proposed ban by demanding a fresh impact assessment and another chance for the fishing industry to put its case for continuing deep sea fishing. He dismissed suggestions that the delay will be so long that it effectively ends hopes of imposing a ban and insisted the proposal is “still on track”.

“The delay is minimal. If we had insisted on the impact assessment going out to tender, that could well have pushed the whole issue into next year when we are facing new elections for the European Parliament and a new Commission. That’s not the case. At the very most we would have probably knocked the timetable back by three weeks,” he said.

Defending the delay, which was forced by a small group of MEPs in March during a session at which the public was barred, Mr Stevenson said “more careful consideration” of the proposed ban is needed. “It’s not the sort of issue we should rush into,” he said. “If we rush into the legislation without thinking and without having full availability of all the information we take bad decisions. Let’s be fully aware of the facts.”

He is particularly concerned to protect the interests of Scottish fishermen whom he said catch species such as monkfish as deep as 900m but are not considered to be catching the slow-maturing deep sea fish that the proposed ban is designed to protect. Deep sea species that the ban is primarily intended to save from overfishing are those such as orange roughy which take two decades to reach breeding age. Others include blue ling and roundnose grenadiers.

Deep sea corals and sponges

Deep sea corals and sponges can be devastated by trawls. Picture credit: Alberto Lindner, NOAA/Marine Photobank

The proposed ban would end deep sea trawling which can devastate slow-maturing species — the European orange roughy fishery collapsed in 2010 having been fished for just a handful of years — and can severely damage vulnerable ecosystems, though the extent to which this has happened is uncertain. Under the ban, all gill-netting beneath 600m would be outlawed while at depths of 200-600m it would be prohibited for certain species.

Amendments to the proposed ban had been supposed to be ready this month [April 2013] but a small group of MEPs, a sub-group of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, forced a delay until at least July by demanding a new hearing for the industry and a new impact assessment. The fishing industry had the opportunity to present its case to a hearing in February but there was a feeling among some MEPs that they hadn’t been fairly represented — others dispute this and say that the industry wants another chance because many of its argument were made to look flimsy at the original hearing. The new hearing should take place in June.

Mr Stevenson, a Conservative and one of six MEPs for Scotland, is especially concerned that the socio-economic impacts of a ban have not been adequately thought through, and the European Commission has now been asked to file a new impact assessment. His prime concern is that hundreds of Scottish whitefish fishermen will be driven from their fishing grounds. This, he said, demonstrates a lack of understanding in the proposals of how the seas are fished and he said that to force so many fishermen back into shallower water would have a damaging impact on other commercial stocks, such as Atlantic cod which is recovering from overfishing.

Orange roughy

Orange roughy are among the species a deep sea fishing ban would protect. Picture credit: Claire Nouvian.

“To start telling our fishermen to stop trawling and take a rod and line to catch a monkfish is absolutely ridiculous. It shows that there is a complete lack of knowledge,” said Struan Stevenson. “There are a whole load of whitefish vessels that fish on occasion for whitefish species like monkfish. Displacing them back into shallow water where cod stocks are in recovery would be very stupid and counterproductive.”

Despite his concerns about the way the ban would work, he believes the slow-maturing deep sea species should not be fished. “I think it’s ridiculous that we have even developed a fishery where these slow maturing species are fished. Fish that take 20 years to mature simply shouldn’t be fished,” he said.

Nevertheless, marine campaigners remain convinced that the delay is an industry-inspired back door move to try to stop a deep sea fishing ban being imposed. They fear that with MEPs going on their summer holidays there will be no time for the European Parliament to consider the proposals until the autumn, giving little time to negotiate the details of any ban before next year’s European elections.

Matthew Gianni, of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, dismissed the suggestion that the delay would be as short as three weeks as “ridiculous” and said: “I think the delay was essentially a blatant attempt to try as much as possible to kill off the legislative process. The reasons for the delay were spurious.” He believes that the Scottish fishing industry’s concerns can be addressed sensibly, but possibly with the fishermen giving some ground in order to better protect deep sea corals, sponges and rare worms.

Claire Nouvian, of Bloom which campaigns for deep sea protection, added: “The fishing lobbies have no other choice than to use vicious methods to defend a reality which is objectively unfavourable to them, not only ecologically but also economically and ethically.”

Source: Fish2Fork, 4th April 2013,

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