EU Parliament rejects ban on bottom trawling

17 December 2013

European Parliamentarians on 10 December voted against a proposed ban on bottom trawling, a fishing technique that involves dragging huge nets along the bottom of the ocean floor. Environmental groups say the process destroys marine habitats and fragile deep-sea fish populations. Industry representatives argued that a complete ban would cost thousands of jobs.

MEPs instead opted for a compromise solution proposed by the Parliament's Fisheries Committee, which will put an end bottom trawling in areas containing sponges, coral, and other vulnerable marine ecosystems. The compromise also involves a formal review of the impact of deep-sea fishing methods.

The EU Commission will now compile a list of areas containing vulnerable marine ecosystems. These areas will be off limits to EU vessels if they are located on the high seas, and will be prohibited to all vessels if they are within the EU's maritime zone.  The Commission will also assess the impact of equipment used in deep-sea fishing methods, including trawling and gill-netting.

If the controversial methods are found to be damaging to vulnerable areas, the Commission will propose that the use of the gear be banned. The final compromise brings European law in line with regulations in other countries.

Industry lobbies worked hard to limit the scope of the ban in an effort to preserve employment in the French and Spanish fisheries sectors most involved in bottom trawling.  Javier Garat, the President of Europêche, argued that a total ban was disproportionate to the Common Fisheries Policy's objectives.

Environmental groups argued the reverse: that trawling's environmental cost far outweighed any economic gains.

"Bottom trawling and gillnetting are shocking practices," said Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director Saskia Richartz commenting on the decision. "They contribute only around one per cent of the EU's total catch, yet suck up millions of euros in subsidies, destroy large areas of fragile sea-floor and overfish many deep-sea species."

The debate around the decision drew an unusual amount of public interest, including a French cartoon strip campaign in favour of the ban that gathered over 780,000 signatures. The campaign argued that the French fishing vessels most involved in bottom trawling were reliant on subsidies to operate and were part of the French supermarket chain Intermarché.  In response to consumer pressure, other French supermarket chains Carrefour and Casino announced that they would stop selling several deep-sea fish species by mid-2014.

ICTSD reporting.

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