Date: May 5, 2008

(Montreal, PQ) Conservation organizations from across Canada and Europe have called on the European Union, Canada, Russia, Iceland, Norway, Japan, the United States and the other member nations of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) to urgently agree to protect deep-sea species in the Northwest Atlantic. A special session of NAFO meets this week in Montreal to decide on regulations to protect cold-water corals and other vulnerable deep-sea species from deep-sea bottom fisheries on the high seas.

Many countries, organizations and scientists called for a UN GA moratorium on bottom trawling in the high seas at the 2006 negotiations. While this was not agreed to, the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) called on NAFO and other regional fisheries bodies to take urgent action to protect vulnerable ecosystems from the impacts of bottom fishing on the high seas by December 31, 2008 or else prohibit high seas bottom fishing. At the time, Canada applauded the UN resolution. The European Union (EU), while voting for the UN GA resolution, criticized the resolution as not going far enough to protect deep-sea ecosystems.

Both the EU and Canada have put forward proposals that contain some, but not all, of the elements agreed by the UN GA. The EU however, proposes to delay the full implementation of the UN GA resolution by two years, until 2011. The EU position is at odds with its repeated commitment to effectively regulate high seas bottom fisheries to protect deep-sea species. The EU has the largest fleet of vessels bottom trawl fishing on the high seas of the Northwest Atlantic. The U.S. is the only member country of NAFO to call for full implementation of the UN resolution.

“NAFO member countries have already delayed agreeing to implement the UN resolution that they all agreed to in 2006” said Matthew Gianni, spokesman for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.  “We are deeply disappointed with the failure of the European Union to propose regulations consistent with its stated commitment to urgently and expeditiously protect deep-sea ecosystems from high seas bottom fishing.”

Cold-water corals, sponges and other deep-sea habitat forming species occur throughout the high seas areas of the Northwest Atlantic where bottom fisheries take place. In a report published by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2004, bottom trawling was identified as the most serious threat to deep-sea ecosystems.

“The decisions made this week by the 13 members of NAFO will set the stage for the future of the Northwest Atlantic,” said Susanna Fuller of the Ecology Action Centre, based in Halifax, Canada. “Canada, in particular, has a major responsibility to follow through on its commitment to implement the UN General Assembly resolution agreed in 2006.”

The UN General Assembly will review the actions taken by NAFO and other bodies in 2009. Should NAFO fail to agree to effectively implement the UN GA resolutions, NGOs and others will renew their efforts to obtain a UN moratorium on high seas bottom fishing in the Northwest Atlantic.

“The onus is now on the nations that fish outside Canada’s 200 mile limit to adopt measures that ensure that the blueprint for action that they have agreed to at the UN General Assembly is translated into real action on the water” said Beth Hunter of Greenpeace Canada.

Matthew Gianni, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition: +31 6 46 16 88 99
Susanna Fuller, Ecology Action Centre: +1 902 446 4840
Beth Hunter, Greenpeace Canada: +1 514 569 8391

Background Information
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 61/105 adopted in December 2006 calls on regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) to “adopt and implement” the following measures by December 31, 2008:

  • Assess whether individual bottom fishing activities would have significant adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) such as cold-water corals, seamounts and hydrothermal vents and, if so, manage such fishing to prevent such impacts or prohibit bottom fishing;
  • Identify the locations of VMEs and determine whether bottom fishing would cause significant adverse impacts to either the VMEs or the long term sustainability of deep sea fish stocks;
  • Close areas to bottom fishing where VMEs are known or likely to occur, based on the best available scientific information, and not allow such fishing to proceed unless conservation and management measures are in place to prevent significant adverse impacts on VMEs;
  • Cease bottom fishing if a VME is encountered during the course of fishing operations and report the location so that appropriate measures can be adopted in respect of the relevant site.

UNEP 2004: Cold-water coral reefs – Out of sight – no longer out of mind. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK.

“Active gear that comes into contact with the sea floor is considered the greatest threat to cold-water coral reefs and includes bottom trawls, dredges, bottom-set gillnets, bottom-set longlines, and pots and traps…Due to their widespread use, bottom trawls have the largest disruptive impact of any fishing gear on the seabed in general and especially on coral ecosystems” (Pages 37 & 38)