Deep sea conservation deep sixed in the Northwest Atlantic

Date: September 28, 2007

High seas fishing nations failed to agree to comprehensive protection of cold-water corals and other vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems on the high seas of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean at the annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), which concluded in Lisbon today. In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) called on NAFO and other regional fisheries management bodies to urgently protect highly vulnerable and unique deep-sea ecosystems such as seamounts, cold-water corals and hydrothermal vents from the destructive impact of bottom fishing.

The NAFO meeting recognized that these types of ecosystems are likely to be found throughout deep-sea areas in the Northwest Atlantic at depths targeted by high seas bottom trawl fleets. “We are deeply disappointed that NAFO did not reach agreement for comprehensive protection for deep-sea ecosystems” said Matthew Gianni of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC). “Cold-water corals, sponge fields, and other habit forming deep-sea species are extremely vulnerable to bottom fishing, in particular bottom trawling, and will continue to be destroyed unless or until NAFO takes real action.” Both Canada and the European Union, with support from the United States, put forward proposals that would require countries to conduct environmental impact assessments of bottom fishing activities and close areas where cold-water corals and other sensitive deep-sea species are likely to be found on the high seas, but these were not adopted. After a week of intensive negotiations, NAFO did agree to close a deep-water area off the southern flank of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to bottom fishing but deferred consideration of comprehensive regulations to protect deep-sea ecosystems throughout the Northwest Atlantic until May 2008.

The European Union expressed disappointment at the lack of progress and stated that NAFO needs to “get its act together” to implement the UN resolution. NAFO parties include the European Union, Canada, the United States, Norway, Iceland, Russia, Korea and Japan. They were amongst the most active participants in the UN GA negotiations in 2006. Russian and European Union fleets dominate the high seas bottom trawl fisheries in the region, with Spain, Portugal and Estonia taking the bulk of the EU catch. DSCC is a coalition of over 60 organizations worldwide working to protect deep-sea biodiversity. Notes: Contracting parties to NAFO: Canada, Cuba, Denmark (on behalf of Faroes Islands and Greenland), European Union, France, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Ukraine, and the United States. Earlier this year the South Pacific RFMO meeting agreed to immediate measures to begin implementing the UN resolution. For further information please contact:Matthew Gianni in Lisbon on ++ 31 646 1688 99 or
Mirella von Lindenfels in the UK on ++ 44 7717 844 352