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[Published: Thursday November 05 2009]

Report shows extinctions likely as fisheries managers fail

London, 5 Nov. – (ANA) - Preliminary findings of a new scientific report published today warn that the wide scale and systematic mismanagement of deep-sea fisheries on the high seas is likely to result in the depletion of numerous deep-sea species and the extinction of others and recommends that some of the fisheries should be closed.

 ‘The Implementation of UN Resolution 61/105 in the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries on the High Seas,’ authored by Dr Alex Rogers of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), examines all of the available scientific, catch and other data to assess how well Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) are implementing an international agreement to protect deep-sea vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs).

The preliminary findings reveal that protection of VMEs is widely inconsistent across ocean regions, leading to limited or, in some cases, no protection for deep-sea species and ecosystems in most high seas areas. The research also reveals that many of the deep ocean species either targeted by the fisheries or taken as by-catch are already depleted and some are even threatened or endangered and in urgent need of protection.  In areas managed by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), for example, many of the deep-sea species targeted have already fallen to 10% or less of their historical population size.

Dr Rogers said:  “The reality is that very little has changed on the water and most of the deep-sea fisheries on the high seas in the North Atlantic remain virtually unregulated despite the threat they pose to vulnerable areas and species in the global commons.  Many of these fisheries should be closed until better regulation and management can be put in place. Unchecked we will see irreversible damage to the environment and the permanent loss of some species.”

In 2006, high seas fishing nations and RFMOs agreed to implement United Nations General Assembly Resolution 61/105, designed to protect deep-sea areas beyond national jurisdiction, through the effective identification, management and protection of VMEs, including through conducting environmental impact assessments of deep-sea fisheries and establishing measures to trigger the closure of fisheries which could damage such areas.

The full report, which will be published next year, examines all regions and RFMOs, but IPSO released its findings on the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), which begins its annual meeting in London today, and the NAFO area. 

In the case of NEAFC and NAFO, the report finds that:

  • None of the nations whose vessels engage in bottom fishing activities in the high seas areas managed by NEAFC and NAFO, including EU Member States, have conducted impact assessments of their bottom fishing activities.  
  • Although NEAFC has agreed to substantial area closures due to the presence, or likely occurrence, of cold-water coral reefs, it has not closed all such areas to bottom fishing and has not closed any areas with other types of VMEs such as sponges and coral garden habitats.
  • Despite the establishment of regulations to freeze and reduce fishing effort for deep-sea species in the NEAFC area, the reported catch of these species has increased by over 350% since 2004.
  • Despite a more systematic effort to manage a number of the target fisheries for deep-sea fish stocks in the NAFO area, there is a record of severe overfishing and many stocks are at a fraction of historic abundance and biomass.
  • The threshold levels set by NEAFC and NAFO for VME encounters apply only to sponges and corals. The levels are probably an order of magnitude or more too high and are not likely to result in any by-catch levels actually triggering a move nor protect VMEs in most areas of the North Atlantic.

Recommendations in the report include the closure to bottom fishing of all areas where VMEs are known or likely to occur; the extension of VME status to all vulnerable benthic habitats (not just corals and sponges) and the phase out of target or by catch fisheries for low productivity deep-sea species.

Next week, representatives from around the world will gather at the United Nations to negotiate the 2009 UN Sustainable Fisheries resolution, which will be adopted by the General Assembly in December.  The General Assembly agreed this year to review the implementation of UN Resolution 61/105 and negotiate further agreements over actions States and RFMOs must take to protect deep-sea species and ecosystems on the high seas. (ANA)


AB/ANA/ 5 November 2009 ---



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