CBD passes the buck for action on high seas bottom trawling

Date: April 4, 2006

Curtiba, Brazil – Although extinctions are proceeding at an unprecedented rate, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) failed to do more than reiterate the call for immediate action to protect vulnerable deep-sea corals and underwater mountains from high seas bottom trawling, shifting the responsibility to the United Nations. “The decisions on high seas reflect that governments now recognize the grave threats to the unique high seas biodiversity and the need for urgent actions.

But countries have shifted the responsibility for action to the United Nations, and missed the opportunity to act themselves,” said Kristina Gjerde, High Seas Policy Advisor of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), attending the UN meeting. (1) This was in spite of a proposal for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling presented to the meeting by Palau. On the 22 March, Palau’s President Remengesau signed into domestic law, a ban on bottom trawling making the practice in Palau’s waters or by any citizen of Palau anywhere in the world, illegal. On a positive note, the European Union position appears to be moving closer to that of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC). Speaking at the conference, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, “We should put in place an interim prohibition of destructive fishing practices in international waters, including bottom trawling.” (2) Such a ban should remain “until appropriate conservation and management measures” have been established under international law, Dimas added. “The threat of loss of biodiversity is bigger than climate change if we consider that once a species is lost, no mitigation measure can help bring it back,” Dimas said. “We certainly welcome Commissioner Dimas’ support for a moratorium, and look forward to his statement being translated into concrete action – unfortunately the political process to date has been characterised by a lot of talk but little action,” said Matthew Gianni, political advisor to the DSCC. (3) As the debate continues, high seas bottom trawling vessels continue to destroy biodiversity. “The fact that the CBD was not able to agree on real actions is a lost opportunity to help achieve the 2010 target of reducing biodiversity loss in one of the few areas where this target can actually be met,” said Imene Meliane of IUCN’s Global Marine Programme. During the meeting, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati announced the creation of the first marine park with deep-sea habitat, including underwater mountains (seamounts). The reserve, covering 184,700 square kilometres will also be the world’s third largest marine reserve. (4) Commercial fishing will be banned in the reserve around the Phoenix Islands, located about half way between Fiji and Hawaii, in order to protect over 120 species of coral and 520 species of fish. “If the coral and reefs are protected, then the fish will grow and bring us benefit,” Mr. Tong said. “In this way all species of fish can be protected so none become depleted or extinct.” Five years ago, countries promised to take steps to significantly reduce the rate of loss of marine and coastal biodiversity by 2010, for example by aiming to effectively conserve 10% of the world’s marine and coastal ecological regions by 2010, but progress has been slow. Just 0.6 percent of the oceans are currently protected as reserves, compared with 12 percent of the world’s land, according to UN data. DSCC member, Greenpeace, released a report at the meeting calling for protection of 40% of the world’s oceans. While that protection is put in place, trawling along the ocean bottom must be banned. “An immediate U.N. moratorium on high seas bottom trawling is essential to stop the destruction of deep-sea life whilst a global network of marine reserves is established,” Professor Callum Roberts of York University said in a Greenpeace statement. (5) Professor Roberts led the production of a series of maps that use state of the art technology to identify the marine areas in the deep oceans that need immediate protection from over-fishing, destructive fishing, mining and pollution. (6) “To protect marine life on Earth, we paid particular attention to highly sensitive deepwater habitats to identify places most vulnerable to harm by one of the most destructive forms of fishing: deep-sea bottom trawling, ” said Professor Roberts. The maps, presented to the CBD, provide the most accurate picture yet of how governments can act to protect the world’s major ecological systems. If governments fail to implement a global network of large protected areas for ocean (and forest) ecosystems, within 20 years, a huge portion of the planet’s biodiversity will be lost forever. The CBD called for a more integrated approach to establishing and managing marine protected areas beyond national jurisdiction. Parties agreed to support further meetings at the United Nations to discuss improvements to the management and protection of species, habitats and ecosystems. Marine protected areas were highlighted as one of the essential tools to achieve ecosystem-based management.

Notes: (1) High Seas Bottom Trawling and Marine Protected Areas: Progress or politics? 31 March 2006, IUCN (2) Press release with the comments by Commissioner Dimas at the Curitiba conference of 28 March 2006 (pdf) EU Calls for Global Ban on Bottom Trawling to Prevent Harm to Ocean Life, 29 March 2006, Environmental News Network Pacific Nation Announces Marine Area, AP in the Houston Chronicle (3) In February, the European Commission told a United Nations meeting in New York that the evidence of actual destruction of ecosystems is overwhelming, that there is clearly felt sense of urgency and that action must be taken, but at a meeting in Wellington only a few days later, the EU failed to suggest specific measures for an interim ban on bottom trawling on the high seas.  (4) Kiribati creates world’s first deep-sea marine reserve, 20 March 2006, The Sydney Morning Herald Pacific Nation Announces Marine Area, The New York Times, 28 March 2006 (5) Greenpeace wants oceans protected, 21 March 2006, Reuters (6) Greenpeace maps show need for global network of marine and forest protected areas, 22 March 2006, Greenpeace Defending Our Oceans website ‘Roadmap to Recovery: a Global Network of Marine Reserves’