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December 4, 2014

Too precious to be lost


The ongoing discussions in the circle of EU bodies will soon determine the future of red coral in EU waters. In the current situation, it would be appropriate to ask the question: “will a future for red coral in Europe be guaranteed?”

The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) is an organization in charge of promoting the rational management of living marine resources in the Mediterranean and the EU, as its contracting party, is subject to the adoption of its recommendations. On December 3rd the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries (PECH) was called to vote on management measures for the conservation and sustainable management of red coral based on the GFCM Recommendation. Oceana is satisfied that an amendment put forward by the Chairman allowing the harvesting of red coral with Remotely Operated under-water Vehicles (ROVs), prohibited under GFCM, has been rejected. However, some restrictions that are important for the conservation of red coral have been excluded by the PECH proposal, andsome other amendments have been selected by cherry-picking among the GFCM regulation, therefore leaving behind some aspects of the original proposal.

Corallium rubrum is an endemic species in the area of the Mediterranean Sea and neighbouring Atlantic coasts from Portugal to Cape Verde. It provides shelter for many other marine species, like fish, invertebrates, algae and microorganisms, assuring that the natural balance in the environment is maintained.

Because of its economic value, red coral has been in huge demand since ancient times, used for making jewelry and ornaments. Currently, it is considered one of the most vulnerable animals in the Mediterranean with a slow growth rate and is subject to over-exploitation.

Especially, the use of harmful fishing methods has resulted in a decline in populations and colony size and today, shallow coral colonies are smaller. Also, new scuba diving technologies allow access to previously unreachable deeper places where red coral resides.

Currently, the harvesting of deeper colonies is only operated by professional divers. Therefore, the complexity associated with this fishery indirectly regulates the pressure on the deep water red coral colonies helping to preserve the stocks.

Concerns over the status of the red coral populations have been expressed on many occasions and recent attempts have been made to include it in Appendix II of CITES (Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species) in order to regulate its trade. Scientists also called for a precautionary approach to the management of this species as data is not yet adequate to allow for proper assessment of the stocks.

The application of ROVs has so far proved to be valuable for scientific purposes; however its use as a method for harvesting the red coral remains unsustainable and carries a high risk of damaging its fragile habitat that one day might lead to its total economic extinction.