MEPs fall for the siren song of deep-sea fishing industry

Press release - November 4, 2013
Brussels – Greenpeace has criticised the outcome of today’s vote in the European Parliament on deep-sea fishing as inadequate to protect fragile deep-sea ecosystems from the destructive impacts of bottom trawling and deep-sea gillnetting. The fisheries committee rejected a proposed phase-out of these destructive, subsidy-heavy fishing practices. Instead, the committee focused on weaker measures with a more uncertain impact, said Greenpeace.


Commenting on the outcome of the vote, Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director Saskia Richartz said: “The Parliament’s fisheries committee has fallen for the siren song of the EU’s most destructive fishing fleet. The danger now is that EU governments sweep this issue under the carpet. But bottom trawling and gillnetting are shocking practices. They contribute only around one per cent of the EU’s total catch, yet suck up millions of euros in subsidies, destroy large areas of fragile sea-floor and overfish many deep-sea species.”

Deep-sea ecosystems rank amongst the most fragile and diverse in the world. Most deep-sea species are delicate and slow-growing [1]. Deep-sea trawl nets crush deep-sea corals upon impact and indiscriminately sweep up many deep-sea creatures which are not the target catch. Scientists have identified extensive damage from trawling at 200-1400 metres in depth along the Atlantic shelf off the coasts of Ireland, Scotland and Norway [2].

Greenpeace has calculated that, between 1996 and 2010, more than €140 million of European citizen’s taxes went to the Spanish bottom trawling fleet [3].  Spain, France and Portugal take almost 90 percent of the EU's deep-sea catch (by weight), but only France and Spain focus on the destructive practice of bottom trawling. The two countries expanded into deep-sea fishing in the 70s and 80s, building and modernising their fleet with EU subsidies, even as scientists began to warn against overfishing.

The Commission has proposed to strengthen the rules obliging fishermen to apply for a special authorisation for deep-sea fishing and to participate in research and monitoring of deep-sea species. It also wants to cap the fleet's capacity to catch deep-sea fish at current levels and has recommended banning all targeted deep-sea bottom trawling and gillnetting within a period of two years [4].


[1]  The diversity, fragility and importance of deep-sea ecosystems has been explored and described by a vast and growing body of research and has generated political attention at the global level, including in bodies like the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations General Assembly, the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the UN Environment Programme. More deep-sea facts at: 

[2] The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) reports that “photographic and acoustic surveys have also revealed trawl marks on coral beds between 200-1400m”; 2005 Report of the Working Group on Deep-water Ecology (WGDEC). 

[3] Greenpeace, 2011, Until the very last fish: The absurd model of deep sea fisheries

[4] Gillnet fishing commonly involves using static or drifting nets with a mesh size (or holes) narrow enough to trap fish. Bottom trawling involves the dragging of heavy nets, chains and trawl doors across the sea floor. It has one of the highest rates of bycatch of non-target species in the European fleet, with up to half of what is caught being discarded.


Saskia Richartz - Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director: +32 (0) 495 290 028,

Mark Breddy - Head of communications, Greenpeace EU: 0032 (0)49 615 6229,


For breaking news and comment on EU affairs:

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace. Greenpeace does not accept donations from governments, the EU, businesses or political parties.