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Progress Made on Protecting Deep Sea Ecosystems

02 October 2013

GLOBAL - At the 35th annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), deep sea fishing nations agreed to additional measures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems which include seafloor organisms vulnerable to bottom fishing.

Extensions were made to existing closed areas for large gorgonian corals and seapens one new protected area agreed as well.

“This is significant progress over last year,” says Susanna Fuller, Marine Conservation Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre and an observer to the NAFO meeting. “The protection of these deep seas ecosystems is key to maintaining high seas marine diversity.”

Two additionally proposed areas were not agreed and are pending the analysis of more information from research surveys. There was also not agreement on completely closing the seamount areas to fishing, where an exploratory fishery for alphonsino took place in 2012 on the Corner Rise Seamounts. This issue has been referred for further discussion.

“This is a disappointment,” says Matt Gianni, Political Advisor to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.

“The Corner Rise seamounts have been in theory closed by NAFO since 2007. They form an important part of the Sargasso Sea ecosystem. The alphonsino fishery continues to be unregulated, which is no longer tolerable given the high rate of bycatch in this fishery and commitments to sustainable management made by all of the NAFO countries in numerous international agreements.”

One important success for environmental and conservation organizations at NAFO this year was that NAFO took a decision to open working groups to observers, with a clause that some elements of discussion may be closed.

“This marks welcome progress in transparency and accountability which is expected from organizations such as NAFO,” says Fuller.

All area closures will be reviewed in 2014, and impact assessments for all fisheries are due in 2016. NAFO agreed to broaden the discussion on bycatch and unregulated species during intersessional meetings before the 2014 annual meeting.

Beginning in 2004, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a series of resolutions committing all NAFO member countries to protect such deep-sea areas, known as ‘vulnerable marine ecosystems’, from the harmful impacts of fishing. The UNGA resolutions also committed high seas fishing nations to conduct environmental impact assessments of deep-sea fisheries to ensure that they are managed sustainably and without damaging deep-sea ecosystems. The implementation of these resolutions will be reviewed again in 2015.

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