Pioneering undersea explorer Sylvia Earle meets with Spanish government officials and addresses Spanish scientists

Date: April 20, 2005

On 18 and 19 April, Dr. Sylvia Earle met with Spanish scientists and government officials to advocate that Spain, a major fishing nation, has an opportunity to act constructively for the conservation of deep sea marine biodiversity by supporting a UN General Assembly moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.

In Barcelona for the first day of her Spanish visit, Dr. Earle – aNational Geographic Explorer in Residence and former Chief Scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – addressed a select group of marine scientists from the University of Barcelona, theSuperior Council of Scientific Investigation, and other academic and marine research institutions. “As a major maritime and fishing nation, Spain can play a vital role in promoting the conservation of deep sea marine biodiversity, in the best interests of science – and fishing interests which will otherwise only continue to destroy the resources on which they depend for their livelihood,” said Earle, sharing her experience and perception with Spanish colleagues regarding the fate of deep sea marine biodiversity resulting from over 40 years of personal underwater exploration. During the meeting, there was a large consensus that unless effective action is taken now, the fishing industry would be digging its own grave. At the beginning of a busy second day, Dr. Earle and DSCC political advisor Rémi Parmentier attended a meeting hosted by the Office of Spain’s Prime Minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, to exchange views, perceptions and ideas on a way forward. Representatives from the key relevant ministries and departments within the Spanish administration were present, among them, three senior officials from the Prime Minister’s office and several representatives from the Foreign Affairs, Fisheries and Environment Ministries. Earle and Parmentier drew the meeting’s attention to the IUCN Congress resolution adopted in November 2005. The resolution incorporates a two-tier approach, addressing first high sea areas where there are no Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and second, high sea areas covered by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. The management of fisheries on the high seas by RFMOs is highly fragmented and inconsistent. Bottom trawling on the high seas of the Pacific, Indian, the Central Atlantic and Southwest Atlantic Oceans, is not covered by any RFMO and, as such, constitutes unregulated high seas fishing. For those areas that are covered by RFMOs, the vast majority of these organisations lack the legal competence to impose restrictions on high seas bottom trawl fishing, let alone to protect the ecosystem as a whole within their areas of jurisdiction. (2) Establishing RFMOs that could regulate bottom fisheries in all areas, thereby ensuring that all countries involved in deep-water fishing abide by the RFMO’s regulations, is a long-term process. In the meantime, Earle emphasized that urgent United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) action is required to protect deep-sea species and ecosystems and the interests of the international community as a whole from bottom trawl fishing on the high seas – the most immediate threat to deep-sea biodiversity. Earle welcomed the recognition by Spanish government officials that trawling on seamounts should not take place. She pointed out that there are considerable gaps in our knowledge of the geography and location of seamounts, as illustrated by the recent crash of a US nuclear submarine into a seamount 350 miles from Guam in the Pacific ocean. “A moratorium on bottom trawling will provide increased incentives to map and research seamounts in order to complete our knowledge of deepsea biodiversity”, she said. After the meeting at the Prime Minister’s office, Earle held interviews with representatives from the Spanish press. The visit concluded with a meeting with representatives from several Spanish NGOs, including the umbrella organisation of environmental NGOs from Galicia, the north-western region of Spain where bottom trawling interests are concentrated.

Notes: (1) The Declaration was adopted in April 2002 when Spain held the Presidency of the European Union, and the ecosystem approach was also endorsed at the highest level in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002. (2) Of the few high seas areas where RFMOs do have legal competence to impose restrictions — the North Atlantic Ocean, the Southeast Atlantic Ocean, the Southern Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea — only the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has comprehensive measures to regulate bottom trawl fisheries for the impacts on deep-sea species on the high seas.