Regulation 2008/734 - Protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas from the adverse impacts of bottom fishing gears


Summary of Legislation

Vulnerable marine ecosystems: protection from bottom fishing on the high seas


Regulation (EC) No 734/2008 — protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems


It sets out the rules for fishing vessels, registered in European Union (EU) countries, using bottom fishing gears* on the high seas outside areas regulated by regional fisheries management organisations or where such organisations have not adopted measures for these fisheries.


Regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs)

  • In line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, RFMOs are international organisations through which coastal states and other states fishing on the high seas cooperate in the conservation and management of fish stocks, particularly highly migratory or straddling fish stocks*, in a particular geographic area.
  • RFMOs have management powers to establish conservation and management measures such as catch and fishing limits, technical measures and control measures.
  • The EU, represented by the European Commission, plays an active role in a number of RFMOs.


The regulation applies to vessels carrying out fishing activities with bottom fishing gears:

  • outside an RFMO area;
  • in an area where an RFMO is in the stages of development and interim measures for the protection of the marine environment have been adopted.

Special fishing permits

Bottom fishing activities are only authorised when they present no risk of damaging vulnerable marine ecosystems. EU-registered vessels using bottom fishing gears in these areas must obtain a special fishing permit. Applications must include a detailed fishing plan specifying:

  • the area of activity;
  • the targeted species;
  • the type of gears used and the depth at which they will be used;
  • a map of the seabed where the fishing activities will be carried out, if the issuing authority does not have it.

Permits are issued by the country in which the vessel is registered. The responsible authorities of that country must:

  • assess the data relating to vulnerable marine ecosystems in the area specified in the fishing plan before issuing a permit. Where no proper scientific assessment has been carried out and made available, the use of bottom fishing gears is forbidden;
  • be notified of any changes to the fishing plan in order to assess whether vulnerable marine ecosystems will be threatened;
  • withdraw the permit of any vessel not complying with their fishing plan.

Area closures

In line with UN General Assembly Resolution 61/105 of 2006, EU countries must identify areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems occur or are likely to occur on the basis of the best scientific information available, and close these areas to fishing with bottom gears. The Commission must be informed of any closures and must then inform the other EU countries.


Observers monitor the activities of vessels granted a special fishing permit until the fishing plan is completed. During this period, observers must:

  • compile information on the catch;
  • note changes to the fishing plan;
  • note any encounters with vulnerable ecosystems; as well as
  • record the depth at which gear is used.

A report must be sent to the competent authorities in the EU country concerned within 20 days of the mission ending. A copy is sent to the Commission.


It has applied since 31 July 2008.


Bottom gears: gears used 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.

Straddling fish stocks: fisheries resources that migrate between the economic exclusion zones (i.e. a sea zone over which a country has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources) and the high seas.


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 (OJ L 201, 30.7.2008, pp. 8–13)

last update 04.10.2016

This summary has been adopted from EUR-Lex.


Legislative text

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