UN General Assembly fails to heed calls to protect the world’s ocean commons

Date: November 29, 2005

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) today reaffirmed its call for nations to take ‘urgent action’ to protect deep-sea corals, seamounts and hydrothermal vent ecosytems from destruction by bottom trawl fishing but stopped well short of agreeing to declare a halt to the practice in international waters. A report released by UNEP last year singled out bottom trawl fishing, the most widely used method of fishing deep-sea bottom species such as orange roughy, deep-sea halibut and grenadiers on the high seas, as the greatest threat to deep ocean corals and ecosystems.

At the same time, over 1000 scientists together with a global coalition of NGOs have called on the General Assembly to declare a global moratorium on all bottom trawl fishing on the high seas. An increasing number of countries recognize that a moratorium on high seas bottom trawl fishing is needed to protect deep-sea ecosystems until new international regimes to regulate fisheries on the high seas are put into place. Nonetheless, after contentious discussions on this issue over the past several weeks, the UN GA has decided to postpone consideration of a moratorium until 2006. Matthew Gianni, Political Advisor to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) said: “The UN GA called for urgent action in 2004 but then decided to sit on its hands this year and wait to see if somehow the problem would fix itself. The reality is that there has been very little progress at the regional and national level in solving this high seas problem. We’re disappointed that the General Assembly – the guardian of the world’s ocean commons – did not agree to clear, decisive action to put a stop to bottom trawl fisheries on the high seas until these fisheries can be regulated effectively and to prevent destruction of deep-sea ecosystems.” The high seas cover two-thirds of the world’s oceans and most high seas areas are devoid of effective internationally agreed controls for deep-water fishing, including bottom trawling. Where regional fisheries treaty organizations have been established, most have failed to prevent bottom trawl vessels from towing or plowing through deep-water coral reefs, some of which are thousands of years old, and other deep-sea habitats. The General Assembly did agree to conduct a review in 2006 of actions taken by high seas fishing nations and regional fisheries treaty organizations to protect deep-sea ecosystems. “The good news is that there is growing momentum for action and we’re hopeful that next year the UN GA will tackle this problem head on and high seas fishing nations will be persuaded to call a halt to the practice of bottom trawl fishing in international waters until we can be certain that deep-sea ecosystems are protected.” The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition is an alliance of over 50 international organizations, representing millions of people in countries around the world. It is calling for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling until the nations of the world can establish strong management measures for deep-sea fisheries and protect biodiversity on the high seas.

Notes: Once thought to be relatively devoid of life, marine scientists have now come to recognize that the deep oceans harbor a vast abundance of unique and, for the most part, as yet unknown species. At the same time there is growing concern within the scientific community that many deep-sea species may be vulnerable to extinction as a result of bottom trawl fishing on the high seas before scientists have had a chance to discover them. Contact: For further information please contact: Susan Cavanagh + 31 621 296 910 Mirella von Lindenfels + 44 7717844352

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