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Increasing numbers of retailers decide to stop selling deep-sea caught species, after massive public campaign

In December, the European Parliament voted in favour of a partial ban of bottom trawling in North Atlantic areas that have vulnerable marine ecosystems, to be listed by the European Commission. Most deep-sea species are slow growing and long living, which makes them particularly vulnerable to fishing. Moreover, their habitats are largely unknown, fragile ecosystems: once damaged, they may take decades or even centuries to recover.

The Blue Fish Europe industry group welcomed the vote, underlining that "the decision of the European Parliament puts in place a regulatory and policy framework that further strengthens the protection of our oceans, while maintaining the social and economic balance of European coastal areas."

For their part, environmental groups, led by the French NGO Bloom, deplored that the Parliament did not vote to phase out the technique altogether, as initially proposed by the European Commission. Greenpeace stated that: "It is astonishing that subsidised fishing vessels can continue to plough the seafloor with monster nets that crush everything in their path without subsidies, deep-sea trawling would be unprofitable."

Interestingly, during the same plenary session, the European Parliament (EP) also adopted its report on the future European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), where it is proposed that vessel owners using deep-sea bottom trawls should be eligible for EMFF funding to replace their trawls with other fishing gear, and receive training to use it.

If environmental groups felt they somehow lost the vote in the EP, the issue provoked such a massive public mobilisation in France, more than 800,000 signatures were collected in favour of a total ban on bottom trawling that several of the main French retailers, including Carrefour, Casino and Auchan, committed to stop marketing deep-sea fish species caught with bottom trawls.

Even Intermarch, the retailer that also owns the main deep-sea bottom trawling fleet through the French company Scapche, had to react to public pressure. After the parliamentary vote therefore after the EP decided not to completely ban bottom trawling the CEO of Scapche stated that their fleet will nevertheless "no longer target deep-sea species" and suggested partnering with NGOs to establish the way forward.