Fisheries management failing the high seas – UN warned

Date: June 17, 2009

New York – The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), an alliance over 60 organizations worldwide, today presented a detailed report on the actions taken by high seas fishing nations to protect deep-sea ecosystems from the destructive impact of bottom fishing on the world’s high seas at a meeting of UNICPOLOS, the United Nation’s General Assembly’s oceans working group.

The DSCC report, which was submitted to the UN Secretary General, highlights the failure of most high seas fishing States and regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) to effectively implement the measures agreed in a 2006 UN General Assembly resolution by the deadline of 31 December 2008. Implementation has been partial at best in some areas such as the North Atlantic, Southern Ocean and South Pacific and non-existent in other areas such as the Indian Ocean.

Matthew Gianni of the DSCC said, “The level of implementation has been far short of what the UN General Assembly has called for and yet all countries with high seas bottom fleets have continued to permit such fishing in 2009. Virtually every RFMO and every country that has a deep sea fishing fleet has failed to implement the resolution effectively.”

In 2004 UNICPOLOS first recommended that the General Assembly call for urgent action to protect deep-sea ecosystems on the high seas from the adverse impacts of bottom fishing. The Resolution adopted by the General Assembly in December 2006 called for all States and RFMOs to take a series of measures to protect vulnerable deep sea ecosystems such as seamounts and cold-water corals, through conducting environmental impact assessments, closing areas of the high seas to bottom fishing where vulnerable marine ecosystems are likely to occur, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish stocks.

The resolution further established a deadline of 31 December 2008 by which high seas fishing nations and RFMOs committed to either implement the UN resolution or else prohibit bottom fishing on the high seas.

While some States and RFMOs have closed some areas to bottom fishing, most of these closures are only temporary and contain loopholes which allow for ‘scientific’ or ‘exploratory’ fishing. Most of the high seas remain open to continued bottom fishing, in particular bottom trawling, on seamounts and in other areas where cold-water corals, sponges and similar habitat forming deep-water species are likely to occur. Furthermore, the DSCC report concludes that most bottom fisheries on the high seas continue to deplete slow growing, long lived, deep-sea species of fish and sharks, some of which, such as grenadiers in the Northwest Atlantic and gulper sharks in the Northeast Atlantic, are recognized as endangered as a result of fishing.

The UN General Assembly has scheduled a review in September of this year of the effectiveness of the actions taken by States and RFMOs and this issue will be debated at the UN meeting this week. “Too many concessions have been made to the high seas bottom fishing industry over the past two years,” said Gianni. “We need to see a strong review by the UN General Assembly that starts this week with UNICPOLOS. The General Assembly must take stronger measures and call for sanctions where fisheries ministries and RFMOs have failed to effectively regulate deep-sea fisheries on the high seas consistent with the broader interests of the international community as a whole to protect high seas biodiversity on the global oceans commons.”