Bottom Trawling Prohibited Below 1000 Meters in Mediterranean

MPA News

All areas of the Mediterranean and Black Sea deeper than 1000 m will be permanently off-limits to bottom trawling, according to a decision in late February by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), the main intergovernmental fishery management body in the region. The binding measure will take effect in late June 2005, although individual GFCM member states may object in the meantime to its applying to them.

The prohibition was influenced by a comprehensive study, conducted in 2004 by WWF and IUCN, on the status of deep-sea ecosystems in the Mediterranean basin. The study recommended as a precautionary measure that fisheries be prevented from extending beyond 1000 m; the measure would protect deep-sea biodiversity, including the nurseries of juvenile deepwater shrimp. That depth represents the current technological limit for most of the Mediterranean deepwater shrimp fleet. Much of the Mediterranean deep sea, with depths to 5000 m, remains unexplored by science or industry. (The IUCN/WWF report, The Mediterranean Deep-Sea Ecosystems, also called for a representative network of deep-sea MPAs in the region and is available online at http://www.panda.org/downloads/marine/bookmeddeepsea.pdf.)

GFCM has released no official figure on the size of the pending gear closure. However, biologist Sergi Tudela of WWF-Mediterranean estimates it at 55% of the entire basin surface (including the Black Sea), or 1.63 million km2 in total. This would be larger than the 950,000-km2 bottom-trawl closure recommended in February for the Aleutian Islands in Alaska (MPA News 6:8). In comparison, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, widely considered the world's largest MPA, is roughly 350,000 km2.

Enforcement of the measure will be the responsibility of the 24 member states of the GFCM, which surround the Mediterranean sea. Part of the closure will be within the 12-nm territorial seas of these states, but most will be on the Mediterranean high seas, outside of national authority. Enforcement of the latter portion will be more complex and challenging, as is the case with high-seas governance (MPA News 5:4). Tudela points out, however, that the areas that would have been most accessible to advances in gear technology are closer to coasts: that is, in territorial seas rather than deeper international waters. "So those waters within 12 nm are important," he says. He adds that regional fisheries ministers are discussing the concept of implementing fisheries protection zones beyond coastal states' 12-nm limits, which could have the effect of helping states enforce the trawl prohibition.

Fishing industry response to the measure has been relatively muted so far, although European industry representatives with interests in other regions have expressed concern that it could spread as a concept to other parts of the world. There have also been statements that the firm 1000-m limit unnecessarily excludes some promising fishing grounds slightly beyond this depth while leaving open some shallower but still fragile areas, including sites with deepwater corals. Francois Simard, marine program coordinator for the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, says a regional network of MPAs could protect unique seabed ecosystems too shallow to be covered by the prohibition.

For more information:

Sergi Tudela, WWF Mediterranean Programme, Carrer Canuda 37, 3er, 08002 Barcelona, Spain. E-mail: studela [at] atw-wwf.org

Francois Simard, IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, Parque Tecnologico de Andalucia, Calle Maria Curie, 35, Sede Social, Campanillas, 29590 Malaga, Spain. Tel: +34 952 028 430; E-mail: francois.simard [at] iucn.org; Web: www.uicnmed.org