18 September 2009 As the opening round this year of the United Nations (UN) negotiations for the sustainable fisheries resolution took place in New York from Sept. 15-18, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) organized a side event to remind negotiators about the vulnerability of the deep oceans. 2009 is an important year for deep ocean protection as it marks the review and assessment of how States and regional fisheries management organizations have implemented UN General Assembly resolution 61/105 to protect deep-sea biodiversity on the high seas from the harmful impacts of fishing.
The side event presented new scientific findings about the occurrence, prevalence and fragility of deep-sea fish and Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) found within the deep oceans. Professor Phillip Weaver of the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton presented findings from the European Union’s HERMES Project, which examined the impact of different human activities in the deep ocean. His work demonstrated the massive direct and indirect impacts of deep-sea bottom trawl fisheries compared to other activities (such as marine research, submarine cables etc) in the deep-sea and the scant likelihood that the ecosystems affected would recover. Professor Peter Auster, Director of the National Undersea Research Centre and of the University of Connecticut, presented the findings of a new report which highlights the extent of the damage a bottom trawl vessel can do to deep-sea corals, seamounts and other species areas of high biodiversity in the deep ocean, and that deep-sea surveys, environmental impact assessments and much more comprehensive fisheries regulations are required to protect such areas then simply requiring a vessel to move out of an area after the damage has been done. The panel was also joined by Jeff Ardron of DSCC member organization Marine Conservation Biology Institute who examined new opportunities for mapping VMEs in different ocean regions and DSCC Policy and Political Advisor Matthew Gianni, who presented the DSCC’s review of implementation of Resolution 61/105. Matthew Gianni told the meeting that while some progress had been made, States and had done far too little to implement 61/105 and pointed to a series of failings by RFMOs and others. Moderating the meeting, Lisa Speer of the National Resource Defense Council told negotiators that continued failure was not an option and that if the international community did not implement 61/105 the call for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling and other high seas deep-water fisheries would resurface. She said: “61/105 was adopted as a compromise between the many States who supported the call for a moratorium on high seas bottom fishing and those who did not. If States do not fulfill the obligations they made under that compromise resolution then the moral argument is clearly there for the moratorium.” Subsequent to the side-event, Dr, Weaver and the DSCC were invited to present a summary of their presentations to all delegations in a session of the UN negotiations. The negotiations are generally closed to all but government delegations but negotiators felt that the briefing would be helpful to governments as they reviewed the implementation of resolution 61/105. MOVE ON! One of the implementation measures of 61/105 is known as the Move On Rule and requires fishing vessels to stop fishing and move on to a new area if they discover evidence of a VME in their nets – for example if they dredge up coral or sponges. The actual regulations adopted by States and regional management fisheries organizations to implement this rule is ridiculous, however, and allows vessels to catch up to 1 tonne of sponges before they are obliged to stop fishing and move, or to catch 100 kilograms of “live” coral. They are then only obliged to move by 2-5 nautical miles before they can begin fishing again. Professor Auster pointed to figures which show that for every one kilogram of coral or sponges caught in a net, ten to one-hundred times that amount are likely to have been destroyed. Lending its name to the title for the side event, the Move On rule also inspired three leading cartoonists to offer their observations about its merit. The DSCC is indebted to Jim Toomey, Steve Way and Tony Husband for sharing their insights and raising a smile at the negotiations.