On 15th September 2022 the European Commission published an Implementing Regulation (2022/1614) which closed 87 areas in EU waters to bottom fishing. The closures were based on the ICES VME Advice issued in January 2021. The fishing industry has major concerns about the VME process and advice, regarding a number of key macro-areas:
- Lack of Transparency and review of the ICES VME Database and assessment
- Errors in the VME dataset and VME Portal
- Validity of the assessment approach
Having conducted a thorough analysis of the basis of the ICES VME Advice in ICES Division 6.a (report link at the end) these macro-areas have been fully confirmed and nine keys issues identified.
- A lack of transparency in the assessment process on which the advice is based.
- Errors in ICES VME Database and VME Map Portal.
- Lack of support for the current delineation of five out of nine polygons in the study area.
- Inconsistencies between the VME Index layers in the 2021 and 2023 VME advice.
- Inappropriate definition of the depth zones that are the foundation of the assessment.
- Inappropriate delineation of VME Habitats at the c-square resolution level.
- Potential confounding of the VME Confidence Index.
- Questionable exclusion of the VME Confidence Index.
- Biasing of the VME Index due to the exclusion of absence data.
The KFO requests that ICES retract its advice and perform a full and transparent review. In the interim period the European Commission should suspend the enforcement of the closed areas listed in the September 2022 Implementing Regulation (2022/1614). It is evident that the delineation of a significant proportion of the VME closed areas in ICES Division 6.a are not supported by any scientific evidence.
Finally, it is important to stress that the KFO recognises the need for conservation and restoration of sensitive marine habitats and ecosystems. This is important not only for addressing the biodiversity crisis but also for supporting sustainable fisheries which are critical for food security. The KFO acknowledge that there is a need for areas to be closed to mobile contact bottom gears but these areas need to first be identified based on robust scientific evidence, which is currently not the case. Where data is lacking then resources should be focussed on collecting real empirical data to fill those gaps. There is an increasing focus on putting significant resources into creating increasingly complex models to fill the place of real data. This often leads to vast extrapolation of underlying data, the development of inappropriate and ineffective management measures and the loss of trust and confidence in the scientific advice. This trend must be reversed and more resources focussed on basic data collection and biological research.