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24th Jul 2021

Euro-deputies reject ban on bottom-sea trawling

  • Deep water life can take hundreds of years to recover from damage cause by deep-sea trawlers, says environment groups (Photo: EU commission)

Euro-deputies on Tuesday (10 December) in Strasbourg rejected a proposal to ban bottom-sea trawling and bottom gillnetting.

The proposal, tabled by the European Commission around two years ago, would have phased out a practice said to destroy ocean floors.

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Trawling involves dragging heavy nets fixed to steel plates and cables across the seabed.

Greek centre-left Kriton Arsenis, who spearheaded the assembly’s initiative, blamed intense lobbying for the rejection.

“You saw today the parliament actually followed what the fishing lobbies wanted, rejecting a ban or a phase-out, not on deep sea fishing, but on trawling,” said Arsenis.

The lobbying targeted the deputies on the parliament’s fishery committee, which Arsenis described as a first and as “very intense”.

The was short nine votes for an outright ban, but deputies included some safeguards to protect the most vulnerable zones.

The issue struck a chord with the public as some 300,000 signed an Avaaz online petition to ban deep-sea trawling. Casino and Carrefour, two large French supermarket chains, also recently announced they would stop selling fish caught in such a manner.

The European Commission, for its part, says its proposal would only have affected around 17 percent of existing deep-sea vessels.

“Affected does not mean the vessels have to stop fishing, it only means they have to change their fishing techniques to more sustainable gear,” noted EU fishery commissioner Maria Damanaki.

Greenpeace says bottom trawling and gillnetting contribute around one percent of the EU’s total catch

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, a coalition of 70 pro-marine life NGOs, say state subsidies are used to keep many of the EU’s deep-sea bottom-trawl fleets in business.

Deep-sea fishing fleets are mostly found in France, Spain, Portugal, and Scotland.

But opponents of the ban, like French centre-left Isabelle Thomas, argued too many jobs were at risk.

“If these jobs were lost it would mean that some regions would be on the edge of the abyss,” she told the assembly.

Member states will now have to formulate their own position before starting negotiations with the parliament and the commission.

Common Fisheries Policy

In a separate vote, deputies backed plans to overhaul the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) after nearly two and half years of negotiations.

The package includes putting an end to overfishing, slapping a ban on fish discards at sea, and scaling back the size of fleets. Fish produce labels are also to include where the fish was caught and how.

“The end of overfishing is in sight,” German centre-left MEP Ulrike Rodust, the parliament’s lead negotiator on the file, said.

Some two-thirds of the assessed fish stocks in the EU are overexploited.

But the lack of a deadline to implement the reforms is criticised by environment groups.

“We remain dismayed by the lack of a firm date by which we should achieve sustainable stock levels,” environment group WWF said in a statement.

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