Today, the European Commission presented their proposal for a council regulation fixing for 2009 and 2010 the fishing opportunities for Community fishing vessels for certain deep-sea fish stocks, including several species of deep-sea sharks. At long last, the Commission has proposed a zero Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for deep-sea sharks, although this comes one year late according to a 2006 commitment and goes against scientific recommendations for immediate action to stop catching these species. If supported by the Fisheries Council, the damaging fishery for deep-sea sharks and other species like orange roughy shall continue for another year.
"Reducing a quota for extremely vulnerable and depleted fish stocks is not sufficient. For years, scientists have advised to stop these fisheries completely – and this is the only adequate measure for these threatened species. These fisheries must have zero catches immediately for 2009,” says Ricardo Aguilar, Oceana’s Director of Research.
Deep-sea sharks (those living below 300 metres) are among the most unproductive of all shark species, with extremely low fecundity and small litters, making their populations especially susceptible to overfishing. Although their meat is consumed, these sharks are primarily caught for their abundant liver oil, known as squalene, which is used as an ingredient in cosmetic products.
Scientists have declared that the Northeast Atlantic stocks of various deep-sea sharks, including Leafscale gulper shark and Portuguese dogfish, are depleted. Given their very poor state, they have been recommending a zero catch of these two species since 2005, which has been ignored. Oceana welcomes a proposal for a zero TAC but repeats its call to have this made effective from the beginning of 2009.
Sharks are not the only deep-sea species affected by this proposal. TACs for orange roughy, roundnose grenadier, blue ling and black scabbard fish among others have been proposed in the same text. The considered species are long-lived (> 100 years in some cases) with very low growth rates, and can only sustain very low levels of exploitation. Scientific advice recommends no directed fisheries for orange roughy and 50% reductions over the initial exploitation levels in the TAC for roundnose grenadier in certain areas, among other restrictions.
Oceana is concerned at the proposal’s lack of accordance with the scientific advice provided for these species. For example, the 0 TAC recommended for orange roughy has been delayed for one year and the minimum landing size for red seabream has not been increased. The organisation highlights the fact that TAC reductions proposed for the remainder of these species and areas are not enough to stop the decline of these fish stocks.
The international organisation has also drawn the attention to the fact that some species aggregate in seamounts, and are caught with bottom trawl nets in those areas, where valuable and vulnerable ecosystems such as deep-sea coral reefs take place. Following the international commitment for the protection of this vulnerable ecosystem, no bottom deep sea fishing activity should not been carried out, until it has been demonstrated that it doesn’t imply a threat for this habitat.
“The delay in the adoption of a 0 TAC for deep-sea sharks and orange roughy could prove to be “too little, too late” for these depleted deep-sea stocks,” declares Rebecca Greenberg. marine scientist with Oceana. The EU Fisheries Ministers are strongly urged to heed scientific advice for immediate zero catches in 2009 when they meet in November to agree on deep sea catch limits for the next two years.