Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization comes up short on protecting the deep sea

Date: September 24, 2010

Halifax, Canada: The meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, which concluded today, left conservation organizations disappointed with the failure of NAFO countries to live up to their international commitments to protect the high seas. In 2006, they all agreed through a United Nations General Assembly resolution to conduct environmental impact assessments of deep-sea fishing and to protect deep-sea species and biodiversity. The UN resolution was a compromise in response to calls by numerous governments and conservation organizations for a moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas.

“NAFO countries agreed they would assess the impacts of high seas bottom fishing by December 31st, 2008 or else stop fishing, according to the 2006 UN resolution. In 2008, NAFO countries themselves agreed to submit assessments for the 2009 fishery. They didn’t, and they still haven’t done so as far as we can tell. Without assessments, they won’t know what the impact of fishing will be nor can they manage bottom fisheries to ensure minimal impact on sensitive deep-sea ecosystems,” said Susanna Fuller of the Ecology Action Centre, an observer at the meeting.

In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly reviewed the actions taken by NAFO and other regional fisheries management organizations and issued a strengthened call for action, including calling on countries to “ensure that vessels do not engage in bottom fishing until such [impact] assessments have been carried out.” NAFO agreed this week only to require impact assessments in areas that haven’t yet been fished. While a positive move, it effectively exempts all existing fisheries from having to demonstrate that they are not having adverse impacts on deep-sea ecosystems.

“It’s been like a Kafka novel here this week with countries telling us that some countries may have done impact assessments but no one seems to have seen them or know where they are, who has done them or what they contain,” said Matthew Gianni of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “We’re particularly disappointed with the European Union countries. The EU has the largest high seas bottom trawl fleet in the Northwest Atlantic and has repeatedly highlighted the importance of conducting impact assessments for deep-sea fisheries. The bottom line is that NAFO countries will be permitting fishing in 2011 in contravention of the UN resolutions.”

Since 2006, NAFO has conducted substantial scientific research on the locations of a number of sensitive deep-sea species and closed seamounts and a number of areas with high concentrations of corals and sponges to bottom fishing – measures which have been welcomed by conservation groups. This week NAFO agreed to maintain the closures, which were set to expire this year, of six seamount areas until 2014 with a caveat that 20% of these seamount areas could remain open to ‘exploratory’ fishing.

In September 2011, the United Nations General Assembly will review the progress of countries to fully implement the 2006 and 2009 UNGA Sustainable Fisheries Resolutions.

“While NAFO countries have made progress – half measures are not enough to protect sensitive deep-sea species and ecosystems, some of which may take thousands of years to develop and may never recover from the impact of bottom trawling,” added Gianni. “This is the question that the UN General Assembly will have to address, and NAFO countries answer to, in 2011.”

For more information please contact

Susanna Fuller, Marine Conservation Coordinator
Ecology Action Centre, 1 902-446-4840 or 1-902-453-9228

Matthew Gianni, Political and Policy Advisor
Deep Sea Conservation Coalition
tel: +31 6 46 16 88 99

Background Information

NAFO member countries are Canada, United States, the European Union, Cuba, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Ukraine, Denmark on behalf of the Faroe Island and Greenland, France on behalf of St. Pierre Miquelon.

Ten organizations from the Canada, the United States, the European Union and Iceland submitted a suite of recommendations to the NAFO meeting. The complete document is available online at the Ecology Action Centre at

The 2009 UN General Assembly resolution (resolution 64/72, paragraphs 119 and 120) can be found at: