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Protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas from bottom fishing

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Protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas from bottom fishing

This Regulation aims to eliminate destructive fishing practices which destroy vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas by adopting measures which form part of the framework of recommendations by the General Assembly of the United Nations. This Regulation applies to Community vessels on the high seas in areas which are not regulated by a regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) and which consequently require regulation by the Flag State.


Council Regulation (EC) No 734/2008 of 15 July 2008 on the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas from the adverse impacts of bottom fishing gears.


The scope of this Regulation applies to Community fishing vessels using bottom fishing gears * for their activities on the high seas. Vessels which operate in an area regulated by a Regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) are not subject to this Regulation. It does apply to vessels which carry out activities in an area where an RFMO is in the stages of development and intermediate measures for the protection of the marine environment have been adopted.

To be able to carry out activities with bottom fishing gears in the high seas, Community vessels must obtain a special fishing permit. Applications for special fishing permits must be accompanied by a detailed fishing plan specifying:

  • the area of activity;
  • the targeted species;
  • the type and conditions of use of the gears deployed;
  • a map of the seabed where the fishing activities will be carried out, if necessary.

The permit is issued by the Flag State after they have carried out an impact assessment. This study is based on scientific and technical data relating to the location of vulnerable marine ecosystems * in the area of activity detailed in the fishing plan. It must demonstrate that the fishing activities will not have a significant adverse impact * on the ecosystems in question.

Any changes to the fishing plan must be notified to the competent authority who will examine whether the changes are likely to threaten areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems occur or are likely to occur. The competent authority in the Flag State shall withdraw the special fishing permit if a vessel does not comply with the specified fishing plan.

The principle of precaution applies when the competent authority does not have reliable scientific information on a given area at its disposal. In this case, the use of bottom gears is forbidden. Bottom fishing activities are only authorised when they present no risk of damaging vulnerable marine ecosystems.

When a vessel has an unforeseen encounter with a vulnerable marine ecosystem it must leave the site and refrain from fishing activities in the area. They are only authorised to resume fishing activities in an area foreseen in their fishing plan located a minimum distance of five nautical miles from the site of the encounter. With as little delay as possible, the vessel must inform the competent authorities of their encounter, providing important details such as the nature, location, time, etc. of the encounter.

Member States shall proceed with area closures to fishing with bottom gears when the scientific information confirms the occurrence or likelihood of occurrence of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the area open to fishing. Member States must inform the Commission of any closures. The Commission is then responsible for circulating the notification to all Member States.

In the event of failure of the satellite vessel monitoring system (VMS) fitted on-board a fishing vessel, the master of the vessel must report its geographical location to the Fisheries Monitoring Centre (FMC) in the Flag State every two hours. The vessel is only authorised to return to sea once the competent authority has confirmed that the VMS is functioning perfectly again.

Observers shall monitor the activities of vessels granted a special fishing permit throughout the execution of the fishing plan. During the observation period, the observers must compile information on the catch, changes to the fishing plan, encounters with vulnerable ecosystems, as well as record the depth at which gear is deployed. Observers shall submit a report to the competent authorities in the Member State concerned within twenty days following the end of their mission. A copy of the report shall then be sent to the Commission.


This Regulation forms part of the common fisheries policy and the Union’s environment policy in that it establishes rules which will enable the prevention and cessation of adverse impacts of certain fishing practices on the marine environment.

The Regulation implements the recommendations formulated by the General Assembly of the United Nations (Resolution 61/105 of 8 December 2006) regarding the adoption of measures to eliminate destructive fishing practices.

Key terms of the act

  • Bottom gears: gears deployed in the normal course of fishing operations in contact with the seabed, including bottom trawls, dredges, bottom-set gill nets, bottom-set longlines, pots and traps.
  • Marine ecosystem: a dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their nonliving environment interacting as a functional unit.
  • Vulnerable marine ecosystem: any marine ecosystem whose integrity is threatened by significant adverse impacts resulting from physical contact with bottom gears in the normal course of fishing operations, including, inter alia, reefs, seamounts, hydrothermal vents, cold water corals or cold water sponge beds. The most vulnerable ecosystems are those that are easily disturbed and in addition are very slow to recover, or may never recover.
  • Significant adverse impacts: impacts which compromise ecosystem integrity in a manner that impairs the ability of affected populations to replace themselves and that degrades the long-term natural productivity of habitats, or causes on more than a temporary basis significant loss of species richness, habitat or community types.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition into the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 734/2008



OJ L 201 of 30.7.2008

Last updated: 08.09.2008