Increased protection for deep-sea speciesRestrictions on trawling deeper than 800 metres have put deep water grounds increasingly off-limits

The ban on bottom trawling in deep waters, adopted by the EU in 2016,  has been effective in protecting deep-sea fish, according to an evaluation of the Deep-sea Access Regulation released by the European Commission.

The Deep-sea Access Regulation introduced conservation and management measures to protect deep-sea species and their habitats, referred to as vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Due to the ban on bottom trawling below 800 meters, species such as grenadier, orange roughy and black scabbard became less accessible to trawlers and, as a result, their catches decreased.

The evaluation states that observer coverage put in place by the regulation has helped improve scientific knowledge of the deep-sea species, while vessels targeting or catching deep-sea species as by-catch are identified and controlled via a strict authorisation scheme.

According to the Commission, the regulation has not yet been fully implemented and the protection of VMEs has seen little progress since 2016 due to important data gaps leading to delays in scientific advice, finally issued on 5th January 2021.

The evaluation of the regulation underlines the need to adopt the necessary measures to set the limits for deep-sea fishing in EU waters and to close VME areas to all bottom gears below 400 metres.

The evaluation concludes that the regulation, with the provisions implemented so far, is fit for purpose according to the five criteria (relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and EU added-value) set out by the European Commission’s Better Regulation screening. Based on the new scientific advice, the European Commission will propose a set of measures (implementing act) to fix the fishing footprint and to close VME areas before the end of 2021.

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