11 November 2008

The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) held their 27th annual Meeting in Hobart, Australia, between 27th October and 7th November 2008.

After extensive discussion, the Meeting adopted a new Conservation Measure - CM22-07 (2008) related to controlling the impacts of permissible demersal fishing (use of longlines, trotlines and pots). The current prohibitions on bottom trawling (CM 22-05 (2006) and demersal gillnetting (CM 22-04) continue to apply to all high seas areas of the Convention Area unless and until lifted by consensus. An existing assessment requirement also continues as a permanent measure (CM 22-06) which requires flag states to undertake impact assessments prior to the next year's exploratory fishing applications (and there is an expectations that notification standards need to be met by all – most flag states did not submit assessments to the 2008 meeting and those that were submitted were of variable quality).

These decisions were in response to the requirements of the 2006 UNGA Sustainable Fisheries Resolution (61/105), which calls on States and RFMOs or other arrangements to take immediate action to ensure fish stocks are managed sustainably and to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs), including seamounts, hydrothermal vents and coldwater corals, from destructive fishing practices. It specifically requires regulating and managing all bottom fisheries in high-seas areas so as to prevent significant adverse impacts on VMEs by no later than 31 December 2008.

The new CCAMLR CM22-07 (2008) will be reviewed after the 2008/2009 fishing season, after the results of the information collection requirements for benthic material incidentally hooked on longlines, the identification of further VMEs, to explore how an exclusion rule might work that properly protects VME. It is expected that scientific assessments of all available information will lead to advice next year on how the CM might be modified to incorporate an effective move-on rule. This year's move-on rule for users of pots, longlines, and trot lines requires areas (of 1 nautical mile radius) to close for the rest of the fishing season around spots where a 10 litre/kg limit.is reached for benthos of various selected species/taxa from a 1,000 hook or 1200 metre segment of line. This is taken to be indicative of the presence of a VME in that area. Additionally, the Secretariat must be informed if half that limit is retrieved.

The obligation to report amounts of VME-related benthos is on the vessel masters. There are additional, new monitoring requirements for scientific observers reflected in changes to observer priorities and the observer manual. An identification poster for relevant species/taxa prepared by NZ scientists is to be used to identify relevant material. In addition, there will be a workshop next year in August, somewhere in the US, to review information, identify important species/taxa, and make better informed recommendations to revise the conservation measure at next year's Commission meeting.

CM 22-06 (2007) requires all individual bottom fishing activities from 1 December 2008 to be subject to prior assessment by the Scientific Committee, based on the best available scientific information. This is to determine if such activities would contribute to having significant adverse impacts on VMEs, and in this case, how these potential impacts can be prevented through mitigation measures, including banning of fishing activities. The CM sets forth the procedure for such assessment. It also requires all CCAMLR Contracting Parties proposing to participate in bottom fishing activities to submit information and a preliminary assessment of the known and anticipated impacts of the proposed bottom fishing activities on VMEs, including benthos and benthic communities. This is required no less than three months in advance of the next Scientific Committee and Commission meeting. These submissions must also include the mitigation measures proposed by the Contracting Party to prevent such impacts. Upon reviewing this information from intending fishers, Scientific Committee is to provide advice and recommendations to the Commission which must determine possible actions including:

  • whether to allow, prohibit or restrict bottom fishing activities within particular areas;
  • apply specific mitigation measures for bottom fishing activities;
  • allow, prohibit or restrict bottom fishing with certain gear types;
  • and/or determine any other relevant requirements or restrictions to prevent significant adverse impact to VMEs.

There was considerable concern expressed about the small number of preliminary assessments providedwith notifications to participate in new and exploratory fisheries (only 5 from a total of 12 notifications provided any form of assessment), and the varying quality of the 5 received. As a result of this consequential lack of information, the Scientific Committee was unable to provide advice on the potential impact for any new and exploratory fishery proposals. Failure to provide adequate assessment was clearly identified as non-compliance with a binding CM. A new pro forma form was produced to aid flag states' preparation of future preliminary assessments and the Commission gave those defaulting states a year's grace,and appears to be in no mood to accept any excuses next year.

The meeting also agreed that two areas identified by Australia clearly met the criteria of VMEs. Next year there will be a clear challenge as to what other areas should be identified as VMEs and what measures should be taken to protect them.

Encouragingly, CCAMLR has declared the 2010-11 season the 'year of VMEs' to encourage a focus on research related to better understanding and management of vulnerable marine ecosystems.