52003PC0519

Proposal for a Council Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 850/98 as regards the protection of deep-water coral reefs from the effects of trawling in an area north west of Scotland /* COM/2003/0519 final - CNS 2003/0201 */


Proposal for a COUNCIL REGULATION amending Regulation (EC) No 850/98 as regards the protection of deep-water coral reefs from the effects of trawling in an area north west of Scotland

(presented by the Commission)

EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM

The process of integration of environmental protection requirements into the Common Fisheries Policy calls for the adoption of measures to minimise the impact of fishing activities on marine ecosystems. This requirement is expressly mentioned in Article 2 of Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy.

Recent scientific reports have shown that certain deep-water habitats are in need of protection against mechanical erosion by fishing gear. These include the habitats formed by deep-water coral (Lophelia pertusa) aggregations such as the ones recently discovered in the north west of Scotland, known as the "Darwin Mounds".

These deep-water habitats are increasingly the subject of attention in international fora. For example, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic ("OSPAR Convention") ha recently included deep-water coral reefs in a list of endangered habitats. Deep-water habitats are also being dealt with within the United Nations informal consultative process on oceans and the law of the sea as vulnerable habitats requiring special protection. While several coastal States around the world have already taken the required protection measures, the European Community has not yet done so, despite intense pressure from certain sectors of public opinion and non-governmental organisations.

Deep-water coral reefs such as the ones found in the Darwin Mounds are included in Annex I of Council Directive 92/43/EEC, on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora [1] as natural habitats of Community interest whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation, with a view to their integration in the Nature 2000 network. The United Kingdom has formally expressed its intention to designate the Darwin Mounds as a special area of conservation, in fulfilment of its obligations under the Directive. It should be noted, however, that the adoption of this proposal is without prejudice to the need for the UK to continue the process leading to the inclusion of the Darwin Mounds in the list of Natura 2000 sites.

[1] OJ L 206, 22.7.1992, p. 7

In view of the above-mentioned considerations, and given the importance that damage from erosion by bottom trawls may have for the survival of these habitats, it is appropriate to issue a prohibition of the use of these gears in the Darwin Mounds by way of an amendment to the existing technical measures regulation (Regulation (EC) No 850/98).

On the other hand, and given that this damage may be non-reversible or very difficult to repair, the Commission is in the process of adopting a regulation issuing a similar prohibition by way of an emergency measure provided for in Article 7 of Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002.

While the environmental benefits of the measure will be significant, the fishing industry will not suffer major consequences, since it can continue to fish with bottom trawls outside the relatively small part of the fishing grounds affected by the Darwin Mounds, or within the protected area using towed gear not in contact with the bottom, such as pelagic trawls and longlines, purse seines and other fixed gear.

2003/0201 (CNS)

Proposal for a COUNCIL REGULATION amending Regulation (EC) No 850/98 as regards the protection of deep-water coral reefs from the effects of trawling in an area north west of Scotland

THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION,

Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Community, and in particular Article 37 thereof,

Having regard to the proposal from the Commission [2],

[2] OJ , , p. .

Having regard to the opinion of the European Parliament [3],

[3] OJ , , p. .

Whereas:

(1) Article 2 of Council Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 of 20 December 2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy [4] provides that the common fisheries policy is to apply the precautionary approach in taking measures to minimise the impact of fishing activities on marine ecosystems.

[4] OJ L 358, 31.12.2002, p. 59.

(2) Council Regulation (EC) No 850/98 of 30 March 1998 for the conservation of fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juveniles of marine organisms [5] establishes restrictions on the use of demersal towed gears.

[5] OJ L 125, 27.4.1998, p. 1. Regulation as last amended by Regulation (EC) No 973/2001 (OJ L 137, 19.5.2001, s. 1).

(3) According to recent scientific reports , and in particular the reports of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, aggregations of deep-water corals (Lophelia pertusa) have been found and mapped in detail in an area north west of Scotland falling within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. Those aggregations, known as the "Darwin Mounds", appear to be in good conservation status but show signs of damage due to bottom trawling operations.

(4) Scientific reports show that those type of aggregations constitute habitats that host important and highly diverse biological communities. The habitats are considered in many fora as requiring priority protection. In particular, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic ("OSPAR Convention") has recently included deep-water coral reefs in a list of endangered habitats.

(5) Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora includes reefs within the natural habitats of Community interest whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation [6]. The United Kingdom has formally expressed its intention to designate the Darwin Mounds as a special area of conservation with a view to protect that type of habitat in fulfilment of its obligations provided for by the Directive.

[6] OJ L 206, 22.7.1992, p. 7. Directive as last amended by Directive 97/62/EC (OJ L 305, 8.11.1997, p. 42).

(6) According to the scientific evidence, recovery from damage to coral produced by trawl gear towed through the bottom is either impossible or very difficult and slow. It is therefore appropriate to prohibit the use of bottom trawls and similar gear in the area surrounding the Darwin Mounds.

(7) Regulation (EC) No 850/98 should therefore be amended accordingly,

HAS ADOPTED THIS REGULATION:

Article 1

In Article 30 of Regulation (EC) No 850/98, the following paragraph 4 is added:

"4. Vessels shall be prohibited from using any bottom trawl or similar towed nets operating in contact with the bottom of the sea in the area bounded by a line joining the following coordinates:

Latitude 59° 54' N longitude 7° 39' W

Latitude 59° 54' N longitude 6° 47' W

Latitude 59° 37' N longitude 6° 47' W

Latitude 59° 37' N longitude 7° 39' W."

Article 2

This Regulation shall enter into force on the seventh day following that of its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.

This Regulation shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States.

Done at Brussels,

For the Council

The President