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Oceans and fisheries

Deep-sea fisheries

Deep-sea species are caught in depths of up to 1,500 metres, beyond the main fishing grounds of the continental shelves.


It is a fragile environment made of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) such as cold waters coral reefs, sea mounts and sea pens present in deep waters. Once damaged, it is unlikely to recover. Therefore, the EU has acted to close 87 sensitive zones to all bottom gears in the EU waters of the North-East Atlantic in 2022.

Highly vulnerable to fishing, deep-sea fish stocks are quick to collapse and slow to recover because they reproduce at low rates. Deep-sea species include fish such as alfonsinos, black scabbardfish, roundnose grenadier, red seabream and some sharks species.

Deep-sea fisheries in the EU account for less than 1% of all fish caught in the North-East Atlantic. 

Every two years, the EU fisheries ministers set total allowable catches (TACs) for a limited number of deep-sea species, based on a proposal from the European Commission.

Deep-sea access regulation

In 2016, the Parliament, the Council and the Commission reached an agreement on how to improve the state of deep-sea stocks and vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems by setting out clear rules and limits for access to these fisheries and fishing grounds. The rules are fully in line with the sustainability targets of the common fisheries policy: they aim to better protect deep-sea fish, sponges and corals by closing certain vulnerable areas and increasing scientific knowledge of deep-sea life while maintaining viable fisheries.

With this regulation

  • fishers may only target deep-sea fish in areas where they have fished in the past (their so-called 'fishing footprint'), thus ensuring that pristine environments remain untouched
  • trawls below 800m are banned completely in EU waters, and 87 areas with vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) are closed to bottom fishing, meaning bottom trawls, dredges, bottom-set gill nets, bottom-set longlines, pots and traps, below 400m
  • to further protect VMEs, fishers have to report how many deep-sea sponges or corals they catch and move on to other fishing grounds in case a certain maximum amount has been reached
  • a reinforced observers' scheme improves the scientific understanding of the deep sea
  • specific measures, for example landings in designated ports, are in place to improve enforcement and control

87 areas closed to bottom fishing in 2022

On 15 September 2022, the European Commission adopted an implementing act closing 87 areas to all bottom fishing gears which represents 17% of the area between 400-800 metres depth of EU waters of the North-East Atlantic and 1.16% of the EU waters of the North-East Atlantic. The total area of the closures is 16 419 km2 reserved for the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems below 400 metres.

Fisheries: End to bottom fishing on protected deep-sea ecosystems in EU waters

Reporting on deep-sea fishing

Member States must submit annual reports containing data on deep-sea fishing: the number of vessels involved, their fishing area, the type of gear used, the size, the number of fishing authorisations issued, their port of origin, the total deep-sea fishing opportunities available to their vessels and the total use of these fishing opportunities. 


STECF opinion - 2023

3 OCTOBER 2023
Presentation - Stakeholders meeting, 26.09.2023
12 MAY 2021
Evaluation of the Deep-sea access regulation
12 MAY 2021
Evaluation of the Deep-sea access regulation - executive summary

Study supporting the Evaluation of the deep-sea access regulation (2020).

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