EU wants to cut quotas to protect deep sea fish

A 130-centimetre long goblin shark swims in a tank at the Tokyo Sea Life Park's aquarium in this handout photo taken on January 25, 2007 by the park in Tokyo. REUTERS/Tokyo Sea Life Park/Handout

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe’s fisheries chief called for hefty quota cuts on Wednesday to protect exotic deepwater species, some of which can live up to 150 years, with trawling to be banned for deep-sea sharks and orange roughy from 2010.

With names like forkbeard, black scabbardfish, greater silver smelt and roundnose grenadier, Europe’s deep-sea fish grow and reproduce far more slowly than fish in shallower waters and are far more vulnerable to overfishing.

With the depletion of mainstay commercial fish such as cod and hake in recent years, they have become an attractive catch as trawlers switch from their regular fishing grounds.

In its recommendations for quota cuts, to be debated by EU fisheries ministers in November, the European Commission wants the 2009 reductions to range up to 50 percent, followed by cuts that extend up to 100 percent in 2010.

In the cases of orange roughy and deep-sea sharks, that means no fishing at all in two years’ time.

“We began reducing catch levels on some of the more vulnerable stocks in 2006, with a view to reaching zero catch in four years. This gradual phase-out has given the industry time to adjust and refocus,” EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said.

France, Spain and Portugal rank among the EU countries with the most developed deep-sea fishing industries, followed by Britain and Ireland.

In European waters, deep-sea fish are mainly found in the north Atlantic at depths of 400 meters (1,310 feet) and more. Orange roughy, one of the most valuable and vulnerable species, can live for 150 years.

The EU has strict rules to control deepwater fishing. Special permits are needed for vessels to land or transship more than a certain amount of these fish, which may only be delivered to specified ports. But enforcement has often been patchy.

Reporting by Jeremy Smith; editing by Keith Weir