Plundering Europe's high seas | WWF

Plundering Europe's high seas

Posted on 21 November 2006
Orange roughy populations have already collapsed in some deep-sea areas.
© WWF / Richard Wilson, Rockhopper

London, UK – The plundering of fish stocks in European high seas between the Azores and the Barent Sea, sadly goes on, said WWF at the end of an international fisheries meeting that failed to reduce catch quotas for many deepwater fish species.

After a week of negotiations at the annual meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), the international body that regulates fisheries in the high seas of the North East Atlantic Ocean, environmentalists expressed concern that recommendations were not adopted to stop the expansion of destructive deepwater fisheries, to close bottom trawling in two areas where fragile cold-water reefs are known to exist, and to end fishing of heavily depleted stocks of orange roughy.

“The results of the meeting are disappointing and highly irresponsible, especially as we face dramatic declines in fisheries worldwide and the high vulnerability of deep sea species and habitats to fishing,” said Christian Neumann of WWF-Germany.

On the first recommendation, the meeting refused to stop the expansion of deepwater fisheries into new areas for the protection of previously unfished stocks. Delegates only agreed to reduce fishing activities by a token 5 per cent, or down to 65 per cent of the highest level ever observed since the fisheries were opened. In some cases this allows for fishing levels to actually increase from current ones, even though these are thought to be unsustainable.

A refusal by Russia, Norway, Denmark and Iceland to agree with a European Union proposal to close the coral rich south-west Rockall Bank led delegates to leave the area open for fishing, only agreeing to close several other proposed areas. The entire set of areas had been recommended for closure by WWF and ICES, the scientific body advising NEAFC.

“Leaving known cold-water coral areas open to destructive fishing is a prostration to short-sighted economic interests,” Neumann added.

The Faroe Islands also refused to agree to a moratorium on fishing orange roughy, despite the unsustainability of harvesting this vulnerable deepwater species. Instead, only an interim suspension of the fishery was adopted and will be reviewed at an extraordinary meeting in June 2007.

Progress was made at the meeting, however, on IUU (illegal, unreported, unregulated) fisheries through the adoption of a more stringent control scheme. Measures aiming at the conservation of sharks have also been agreed on, limiting the amount of shark fins onboard.

“Although there was some overdue progress at this recent meeting, the results are a too little, too late,” said Neumann.


• The North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) regulates fisheries in the North East Atlantic Oceanin areas beyond the 200-nautical mile limit of a country's national jurisdiction. There are currently five contracting parties: the European Community, Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland), Iceland, Norway and the Russian Federation.

For further information:
Christian Neumann, Marine Conservation Officer

Orange roughy populations have already collapsed in some deep-sea areas.
© WWF / Richard Wilson, Rockhopper Enlarge