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Sustainability of deep-sea fish species under the European Union Common Fisheries Policy

Villasante, S., et al. Ocean & Coastal Management (2012),


The historical expansion of fishing industries into the deep sea has been described at the global level, but corresponding patterns are less well known at other geographical scales. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has stated that most deep-sea species exploited by European fishing industries are harvested outside safe biological limits. As a result, the European Union commenced regulating exploitation of deep-sea stocks with total allowable catches (TACs). These regulations have been operational since 2002, but no detailed overview of their effectiveness is hitherto available. The objectives of this paper are: 1) to analyse changes in mean depth of fishing of the EU fleet before (1950 e1982) and after (1983e2006) the adoption of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), 2) to analyse the degree to which the European Council follows scientific advice on sustainable catches provided by ICES and 3) to investigate the degree to which the fishing industry complies with agreed catch limits. Our results indicate that the EU fleet has experienced a bathymetric expansion by an average of 78 m depth for the 1950e2006 period, or almost twice the value (42 m) previously reported for the global fleet. This pattern of expansion towards deep-sea fishing grounds has not changed under the CFP. Additionally, the paper demonstrates that the mean longevity of species caught by the EU fleet increased with depth, from about 13 years for shallow water species to about 25 years for intermediate species and about 60 years for deep-sea species. Thus, fishing deeper means fishing for increasingly long-lived and vulnerable species. This study also shows that approved TACs for deep-sea fish stocks did not follow scientific advice. Scientifically proposed TAC levels were not respected in about 60% of the cases investigated and these approved TACs were not complied. Member States exceeded agreed quotas in about 50% of the cases during the 2002e2011 period. Reported catches were on average 3.5 times greater than approved for deep-sea species, but in some cases catches even 10e28 times higher than agreed. The identified pattern that Member States fail to respect approved quotas indicate a lack of incentives to comply, likely as a consequence of limited enforcement and sanctioning mechanisms. Ensuring long-term sustainability of deep-sea stocks is urgently needed but requires dramatic change to the existing management system.

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