Azores faces fishing out after court appeal fails | WWF

Azores faces fishing out after court appeal fails

Posted on 03 July 2008
The Azores is one of the best preserved deep sea environments in European waters.
© WWF / Chris Martin Bahr
A Court ruling has cleared the way for even more intensive fishing of one of the Atlantic’s most diverse deep sea habitats.

“The people of the Azores have used small vessels and traditional fishing methods for generations without endangering fish stocks or the environment,” said Stephan Lutter of WWF Germany.

“Now the number of Spanish longliners licensed to fish in Azorean waters has increased from zero to at least 140 vessels in only 2 years.”

After the European Council of Ministers decided in 2003 to open the region up to the fishing fleets of all EU member states, the decision was appealed to the Court of First Instance of the European Communities by the Autonomous Region of the Azores, with the support of Greenpeace, Seas at Risk and WWF.

The Azores is the most isolated archipelago in the North-East Atlantic and forms part of the volcanic mid-ocean ridge. Averaging 3000 metres in depth, the waters around the Azores contain vast undersea mountain ranges – seamounts – deep water coral reefs and volcanic hydrothermal vents that are rare in European waters. The deep water commercial fish species found around the Azores are long-lived and slow to reproduce and even modest fishing pressure can seriously deplete stocks.

Tuesday’s court ruling marks the failure to overturn the 2003 decision, with the Court of First Instance citing the lack of legal status of the Azores to bring forth such a case. The latter have pledged to appeal though, in an effort to protect their region from the devastation caused by such intensive fishing.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Court has decided that the case brought by the Azores and NGOs is inadmissible. The consequence is that the Azores’ unique marine life remains vulnerable to increasingly intensive fishing practices.” saidMonica Verbeek of Seas at Risk.

While the Council of Ministers banned bottom trawling (a particularly intensive and damaging form of fishing) in the fisheries around the Azores in 2004, the number of longliners targeting swordfish has increased dramatically since 2003. Longlining causes significant loss of life to non-target species such as turtles and sharks, while also devastating deep-sea corals.

Since the opening up of the Azores fisheries, several thousand loggerhead turtles, which rely on the Azores' waters as their feeding and nursery grounds, have been killed by EU vessels.

“The Court’s ruling has primarily considered legal and not ecological aspects. It is therefore crucial that Spain and any other EU member states that have vessels fishing in the area make an immediate assessment of how their individual fisheries impact on ocean ecosystems around the Azores.” Said Saskia Richartz of Greenpeace.

“Unless they can prove that no negative impact occurs, EU member states should prohibit their vessels from fishing around the Azores.”

On 23rd of June, the Council of Ministers adopted rules that will apply to bottom fisheries in certain deep-sea areas on the high seas. These will require vessels to carry observers on board, and for Member States to perform impact assessments before authorising any fishing activities in such deep-sea areas. However, these rules do not currently apply to the Azores, though adoption of similar measures would go some way to maintaining the sustainability and stability of the region.
The Azores is one of the best preserved deep sea environments in European waters.
© WWF / Chris Martin Bahr Enlarge
Some 200,000 endangered loggerhead turtles (<i>Caretta caretta</i>) drown annually on longlines set around the world for tuna, swordfish, and other fish.
Some 200,000 endangered loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) drown annually on longlines set around the world for tuna, swordfish, and other fish.
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER Enlarge