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Deep-sea fish stocks

Deep-sea fish stocks may be heavily depleted by over-fishing. Measures have been adopted to ensure sustainable exploitation of these resources, such as the reduction in total allowable catches (TACs) and fishing effort. In this Communication, the Commission reviews the measures in force and stresses the scarcity of information on the fisheries to improve the management of deep-sea fish stocks.


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 29 January 2007 entitled: "Review of the management of deep-sea fish stocks" [COM(2007) 30 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


Deep-sea fish stocks consist of species that live at depths of greater than 400 metres. These resources are particularly vulnerable to over-fishing. They are slow-growing and generally of low fecundity.

Fisheries targeting deep-water species have developed recently. These fisheries are characterised by the mixture of species and there is a lack of reliable scientific data to ensure sustainable exploitation of the deep-water resources.

Measures have been adopted, such as the limitation of fishing effort or total allowable catches. However, they are insufficient, as most deep-water species are still fished beyond tolerable biological limits.

Total allowable catches (TACs)

The regulations concerning deep-sea fisheries are relatively recent. The first TACs were introduced in 2002 for the period 2003-2004.

The TACs set were rather arbitrary on account of the lack of knowledge about the species concerned. They should have been established at much lower levels to guarantee the sustainability of the stocks. In accordance with the precautionary principle which prevails in the case of a threat to the balance of ecosystems, certain deep-sea fisheries should have been closed.

Declared catches are lower than the TACs, which shows that the latter were not sufficiently restrictive. This finding led to the Commission proposing a 30 % reduction in fishing opportunities compared to the 2003 levels. However, the Council of Ministers preferred to opt for more modest reductions of a maximum of 15 % of the existing TACs.

On account of the mixture of species in the fisheries, the lack of information on catch composition, discards and the geographical distribution of the stocks, TACs were set for only forty-eight deep-sea species, which are listed in Annexes I and II to Regulation (EC) No 2347/2002.

Despite the difficulties, it appears that the TACs have enabled a reduction in the fishing mortality of the main targeted species. Complementary measures must be adopted, such as restriction of fishing effort.

Fishing effort

One of the complementary measures consisted in reducing the fishing effort of vessels with licences by 10 % in 2005 and a further 10 % in 2006, compared to the 2003 levels. However, this capacity ceiling failed to limit the expansion of deep-sea fisheries, since certain deep-sea stocks, such as ling, tusk and argentines, are taken as by-catches.

Because they are set at far too high a level, the capacity limits of the fishing vessels do not allow restrictions in the number of vessels targeting deep-sea species. This is attributable to the calculation method applied, which is defined in Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 2347/2002. This calculation takes account of the total capacity of all the vessels that caught at least 10 tonnes of deep-water species in any one of the years 1998, 1999 or 2000, rather than an average over that period.

This shortcoming has also meant that the reductions in fishing effort have been ineffective. The effort reductions do not in fact result in practice in a reduction of the exploitation rate of deep-water stocks. Conversely, they may unnecessarily restrict the fishing effort of some other fisheries, such as the blue whiting.

Better information is needed on the various fisheries exploiting deep-sea species so that fishing effort levels can be adjusted in each of them individually according to the target species and by-catch species. The issuing of fishing permits should take greater account of the track record of each vessel.

The Commission is not fully in the picture as far as the impact of the respective fishing gear is concerned, as some Member States have not forwarded their reports on fishing effort to it.

Scientific sampling programmes

Sampling programmes were carried out to remedy the lack of scientific information on deep-water stocks. However, the current legislation does not provide sufficient guidance on how to proceed. The sampling schemes drawn up by the Member States differ in quality and content, which makes them difficult to use. A reporting format should be drawn up to facilitate the aggregation of the data received or improve their quality.

Monitoring and control

Closed areas can be introduced for certain species, such as the orange roughy. Vessels with deep-sea fishing licences entering such areas must observe certain rules. During transit in the area in question, they must maintain an average speed of at least eight knots and all gears carried on board must be lashed and stowed.

The supervisory authorities of the Member States should make more use of the satellite-based vessel monitoring system (VMS). This system would enable them to warn inspectors of suspect activities in the areas concerned and to intercept the vessels on entering port. Fisheries monitoring centres should be set up in each Member State to inspect the vessels in transit or fishing in the closed areas.

Too many vessels hold a deep-sea fishing licence when their catches of deep-sea species are only marginal. This situation limits the effectiveness of deep-sea effort limitations and may lead to control problems for non-deep-sea stocks. Vessels with such licences can legitimately fish in areas where a Member State has deep-sea quotas, without necessarily targeting this type of stocks.

Member States are required to notify the Commission of the inspection and surveillance procedures they apply in the ports designated for landings of deep-sea species.


Council Regulation (EU) No 1225/2010 of 13 December 2010 fixing for 2011 and 2012 the fishing opportunities for EU vessels for fish stocks of certain deep-sea fish species [Official Journal L 336 of 21.12.2010].

Last updated: 19.10.2011
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