New York, United States of America — Many countries are failing to implement vital United Nations (UN) resolutions designed to protect vulnerable deep-sea species and ecosystems, according to two reports released today ahead of a debate on deep-sea fisheries by the UN in New York (15–16 September).
In spite of successive UN resolutions calling for urgent action, countries such as South Korea, Russia, Cook Islands, Spain, Portugal, France, Australia, New Zealand and Japan continue to allow their vessels to fish the deep-ocean in international waters using bottom trawl gear, a highly damaging fishing technique, with devastating implications for the future of deep-sea marine life in the world's oceans.
A workshop of marine scientists representing institutions from around the world has concluded that highly vulnerable and unique deep sea ecosystems remain unprotected, five years after the UN General Assembly (GA) took action to protect them.
Organised under the auspices of the Hermione Project, together with leading universities and marine scientific initiatives, the workshop examined implementation of two UN GA Resolutions (61/105 and 64/72), which sought to conserve vulnerable deep-sea species and protect fragile deep-sea habitats on the high seas. The first of these resolutions was adopted by the UN GA in 2006 and committed regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) and fishing nations to fully implement regulations to protect deep-sea ecosystems and species within two years. The conclusion of the workshop is that five years later they still have not done so.
Professor Phil Weaver of the Centre said, "It's been five years and the deep seas' remarkable array of coral, sponge, fish, crustacean and other species, most of which are still unknown to science, remain at risk. This cannot be what the UN GA intended."
A second report published today by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) draws similarly damning conclusions. The DSCC found that fishing states and RFMOs have had enough time to make changes on the water but, with the exception of the management of deep-sea fisheries in the waters around Antarctica, have not done so sufficiently. The DSCC report highlights a series of failures to implement key provisions of the UN resolutions including completion of proper impact assessments before fishing, and establishing regulations to ensure the long-term sustainability of deep sea species.
The first of the UN resolutions (2006) was adopted by the UN GA after a lengthy debate in which many States called for a temporary prohibition on the practice of deep sea bottom trawl fishing on the high seas – considered one of the most highly destructive in current use. Instead, the UN negotiators reached a compromise which required that a series of protection measures had to be implemented by December 2008 or fishing could not occur. These measures were further strengthened in a follow-up resolution adopted by the UNGA in 2009.
Policy Advisor to the DSCC Matthew Gianni and lead author of the DSCC report, said: "The relatively small number of nations involved in deep-sea bottom fishing on the high seas made a clear commitment to the UN GA that they would prohibit their vessels from deep-sea fishing in international waters unless or until protection measures were in place. A number of reviews have shown that while some high seas areas have been closed to bottom fishing, countries continue to allow their vessels to engage in this type of fishing in contravention of the commitments they've made."
Representatives of the DSCC together with Professor Weaver, and other marine scientists will be giving evidence to the UN at a special two day Review of the implementation of Resolutions 61/105 and 64/72 9New York on 15-16).
Mathew Gianni: "All nations have a right to expect that the deep-sea fisheries on the High Seas – the global oceans commons – are sustainable and the ecosystems protected. Those that do not comply should be told to shape up or stop fishing."
Deep sea bottom trawling is recognised as the most serious direct threat to deep-sea ecosystems. Once destroyed, slow-growing deep-sea species are either lost forever or unlikely to recover for decades or centuries.
The 22 marine scientists attending the Hermione workshop in Lisbon, concluded that:
The UNGA resolutions have not been fully implemented
Deep-sea fisheries are not being managed for long-term sustainability, and
Vulnerable marine ecosystems are not being given sufficient protection from significant adverse impacts.
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) review concluded that:
The catch of most deep-sea fish species on the high seas is unregulated
Prior impact assessments – a cornerstone of the UN GA resolutions – have not been conducted for any high seas bottom fisheries in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans
Bottom trawl fishing has been banned in the international waters around Antarctica, but accounts for over 95% of the bottom fish catch on the high seas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans
While a number of areas of the high seas have been closed to bottom fishing to protect deep-sea ecosystems since 2006, the closures are generally areas of little or no interest to the fishing industry and many more areas of the high seas continue to be vulnerable to bottom fishing.
Deep-sea bottom fishing on the high seas in contravention of the UN resolutions is effectively illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing.
For further information please contact:
Mirella Von Lindenfels
Telephone: + 44 (0) 7717 844352