Proposals to catch almost 45,000 tonnes of deep-sea fish in 2005 have been made.
Some populations of deep-sea fish should be regarded as “endangered”: substantial cutbacks in their catches may not be enough to protect them.
From orange roughy more than 150 years old to deep-sea sharks of 80, from hermaphrodite seabream to bioluminescent creatures, many species from the depths of the oceans have come to represent a target for commercial fisheries. Oceana, the international organisation dedicated to research for the protection and recovery of the seas, warns that in just 15 years of fishing, many populations of deep-sea fish have been overexploited or even depleted.
Oceana has presented the EU Fisheries Ministers with their proposals for fishing quotas for deep-sea species. Next Wednesday, 15 December, the EU Permanent Representatives Committee(COREPER)is meeting in Brussels to debate on the 2005 fishing quotas for European fleets, which will be agreed by the Council of Fisheries Ministers on 21 and 22 December.
Species such as the orange roughy, blue ling and tusk could have lost more than 80% of their numbers in some of their populations, explains Oceana. Other deep-sea species being targeted by commercial fisheries are the greater Argentine smelt, the black scabbardfish, the greater forkbeard, the roundnose grenadier and the Greenland halibut. In 2003, the fleets of Norway (46,580 tonnes), Iceland (31,789), the Faroe Islands (15,354), France (14,389) and Spain (10,130) were the five leading fleets in terms of numbers caught, according to preliminary data from ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas).
“Because these are very long-living species that have a low reproductive rate and are late to mature, they are extremely vulnerable. Almost all these species did not start being commercialised until the majority of fish caught regularly by the European fleets started to become scarce,” explains Ricardo Aguilar, Oceana’s Director of Research and Projects.
Oceana is asking governments to take into account scientific recommendations, which advise substantial cutbacks, and to prevent the depletion of such important marine resources.
The organisation has also asked for the urgent protection of vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems such as deep-sea coral reefs.
To give an idea of the state of these stocks, for 2005 a total quota of 45,000 tonnes of deep-sea species is being put forward; in other words, reductions that range between 30% and 70% for many species.
“For the first time, the Commission is proposing fishing quotas that are more closely in line with the state of stocks and is applying the principle of precaution, but the discussions that political representatives will be holding at the Fisheries Council in December and meetings held prior to that date tend to result in the granting of different final quotas that are very far from what responsible fishing in accordance with resources should be,” says Xavier Pastor, the Director of Oceana for Europe.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) deems that in order for a species or animal population to be catalogued as “endangered” it must have suffered a decline of more than 50% in just three generations. In the case of certain deep-sea species, which can exceed 150 years of age, the decline they have experienced has far surpassed this percentage in less than one generation.
We need to bear in mind that in numerous cases the fish that were born when many of these fisheries started have still not reached adulthood.
Many of the catches of golden eye perch and red seabream, another species that can live at depths of more than 800 metres, are carried out over coral reefs, which means that their fishery endangers a habitat that provides shelter to hundreds of different species.
In the case of deep-sea sharks, many of them are oviviparous, i.e. the mother keeps the eggs in her body until giving birth, which means that two generations are wiped out at the same time when they are caught. The spiny dogfish, the shark with the longest known gestation period, gives birth to just two to five offspring following a two-year gestation, and its population has diminished by more than 85%.
In view of the debate taking place this week in Brussels, Oceana is calling on EU governments to take scientific recommendations into account, and to prevent the exhaustion of these important marine resources.
It is also asking for the urgent protection of vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems, such as deep-sea coral reefs.