Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twelfth Report

10 Management of deep sea fish stocks



COM(07) 30

Commission Communication: Review of the management of deep sea fish stocks

Legal base
Document originated29 January 2007
Deposited in Parliament5 February 2007
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 26 February 2007
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


10.1 Although the Community has for many years now set limitations on catches of the main species in its waters, it has done so only relatively recently in the case of deep sea species (generally considered to be those which live at depths greater than 400 metres). It has therefore sought in this Communication to assess the effectiveness of the measures which have been taken so far in Community waters, and in the regulatory areas of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) and the Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic Fisheries (CECAF).

The current document

10.2 The Commission notes that, because of the depth at which they live, the food available for these species is limited, and that they are therefore typically long-lived, slow-growing and late-maturing. In addition, they are generally of low fecundity, all of which makes them particularly vulnerable to over-fishing. The Commission also points out that the fisheries on these species generally developed before sufficient information was available for the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to provide management advice, but that the most exploited of them were considered to be outside safe biological limits, requiring immediate reductions in fishing effort.

10.3 More specifically, the Commission observes that total allowable catches (TACs) were first introduced for certain of these species in 2002, on the basis of catches between 1990 and 1999, and that subsequent TACs — which have also applied to the new Member States — have been set two years at a time, reflecting the frequency of the relevant scientific advice. These TACs have been accompanied by limitations on fishing effort, under which all vessels which capture more than 10 tonnes of these species a year are required to have a fishing permit, with an upper limit being imposed on their aggregate capacity and special reporting and control arrangements being imposed.

10.4 In assessing the effectiveness of these measures, the Commission says:

  • that the TACs have been set at somewhat arbitrary levels, albeit much higher than would have been required by the precautionary principle, but that they have subsequently been reduced (though by a smaller amount than the Commission itself would have wished);
  • that, since deep sea fisheries (with few exceptions) catch a mixture of species, TACs for the various stocks need to fixed relative to each other at levels which minimise discards and by-catches — a process which it says is extremely difficult, even for shallow-water fisheries for which much more information is available;
  • that the problem of managing these species is increased by the lack of knowledge of their geographical stock structure, and the huge management areas involved;
  • that, although TACs have probably helped to curb fishing mortality, they need to be complemented by other measures, in particular restrictions on fishing effort;
  • that the effort limits actually established have nevertheless probably had little effect, because shortcomings[40] in the way in which they have been calculated have led to them be set at too high a level; and
  • that there have also been shortcomings in Member States' arrangements for collecting and providing information on fishing activity, for identifying designated ports for landings, for providing information on vessels holding the necessary licences.

The Government's view

10.5 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 26 February 2007, the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Ben Bradshaw) says that the UK welcomes this Communication, which presents very clearly the shortcomings of the existing system. He says that the Government agrees with all the points made by the Commission, and that it has always held the view that TACs are not the best way to manage these fisheries, and that there should be greater emphasis on effort restrictions. Consequently, whilst it welcomes the reductions in the TACs adopted for 2007 and 2008,[41] it considers that the whole system should be reviewed to ensure that it is working properly, including control and enforcement, with the limits placed on capacity being revisited to see if they are as effective as they might be. He also suggests that it is crucial that more data is gathered to help ICES produce detailed advice.

10.6 The Minister says that it is not clear what follow up action the Commission now envisages, and that the UK will be asking what it has in mind.


10.7 This Communication provides an interesting insight into the problems which the Community has encountered in its recent attempts to manage these fisheries, and, for that reason, we think it should be drawn to the attention of the House. However, as we noted when we reported on the proposal setting the total allowable catches for 2007 and 2008, the UK is not a major participant in these fisheries, and we are therefore clearing the document.

40   For example, the capacity set includes many vessels fishing primarily for shallow-water species, with only marginal catches of deep-sea stocks. Back

41   (27882) 13421/06: see HC 34-xlii (2005-06), para 10 (7 November 2006). Back

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