* French, Spanish, Portuguese vessels most affected
* EU funding available to finance transition
* Environmentalists welcome the proposals
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, July 19 Ancient, little-known species
of fish, living deep in Atlantic waters, could gain protection
from EU proposals published on Thursday to phase out certain
kinds of deep-water fishing.
The Commission, the European Union's executive arm, proposes
phasing out licences for deep-sea fishing using methods known as
bottom trawls and bottom-sea gillnets.
Conservationists and environmentalists welcomed the
proposals, which cover the European waters and high seas of the
Northeast Atlantic and outermost regions of Spain and Portugal.
The vessels that would be affected by the proposals are
chiefly French, Spanish and Portuguese.
"They are a milestone because the EU has never tried to stop
bottom fishing in its own waters before," said Stephan Lutter,
international marine policy officer at WWF.
To become law, the proposal would have to be adopted by EU
member states in a long legislative process, which judging from
previous fishing debates could be heated.
"If the Commission proposal is adopted, it would transform
the EU into a global defender of deep-sea marine life by
protecting vulnerable deep-sea species and ecosystems from the
harmful impacts of destructive bottom fishing," said Matthew
Gianni, policy adviser to the Pew Environment Group and the Deep
Sea Conservation Coalition.
The fishing methods the Commission aims to phase out can
result in large numbers of fish (between 20 and 40 percent of a
catch) being discarded as uncommercial, inflicting rapid damage
on stocks that reproduce slowly.
The European Union has long imposed limits on fishing but
this is the first time it has tried to protect deep-sea fish.
Some species, such as deep water sharks, are now seriously
Deep sea fisheries account for only about 1 percent of fish
landed from the Northeast Atlantic, the Commission said, as
catches and the related jobs have declined over the years.
Pew Environment Group gave different figures, saying the
EU's deep-sea fishing fleet was responsible for 75 percent of
the total catch of deep-sea species.
Even though the number of jobs has shrunk, some communities
depend on deep-sea fishing, and EU funding could be available to
help them adjust, the Commission said.
It has also financed a study into less harmful fishing gear
and a switch to techniques and strategies that have less impact
on fragile ecosystems.
While deep sea fish can be caught accidentally by many
vessels, the Commission is targeting boats that specifically
fish for deep-sea species, whose habitats and ecosystems are
largely unknown, using particular types of gear.
Some species live on coral reefs, which are up to 8,500
years old, and other ancient habitats that, if damaged, are
unlikely to recover.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Ebbs; editing by Tim Pearce)