The Annual Meeting of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission concludes with mixed progress on deep-sea fisheries

Date: November 14, 2010

The Annual Meeting of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) took place 10-14 November 2010. Three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attended as observers – the Pew Environment Group, Seas at Risk and WWF, together with the DSCC. In relation to the implementation of the UN General Assembly resolutions on deep-sea fisheries, in their opening statements the NGOs called on NEAFC Parties to agree to:

  1. Area closures: Adopt additional area closures to protect corals and other bottom species as proposed by the European Union (EU) (two large area closures on the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge) and endorsed by the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the main scientific body advising NEAFC on fisheries and related ecosystem issues;
  2. Impact assessments: Adopt a requirement that impact assessments be made mandatory for all high seas deep-sea bottom fisheries as called for by the UN General Assembly (paragraph 119d of UNGA resolution 64/72); and
  3. Managing deep-sea fisheries: Overhaul the management of deep-sea fisheries in terms of their impacts on target and non-target fish species consistent with the call by the UN General Assembly to ‘ensure the long-term sustainability’ of deep-sea fish stocks, including non-target species, or else prohibit such fishing.

In the end, the meeting agreed to the following:

  1. Area closures: The EU proposal was not approved. The EU did not put it to a vote because it was clear that few if any of the other NEAFC countries would support it.
  2. Impact assessments: NEAFC adopted a regulation that requires all NEAFC Parties to submit impact assessments consistent with most (though not all) of the criteria in the 2008 FAO Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Sea. These assessments would be for fisheries in new areas and fisheries in existing areas “if there are significant changes to the conduct or technology of existing bottom fisheries, or new scientific information indicating a vulnerable marine ecosystem in a given area”. This is similar to the measure adopted by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) in September 2010. This is a positive step. However, given that most of the NEAFC Regulatory Area (the high seas portions of the Convention area) between Iceland and the Azores is either closed or considered new fishing area (i.e. outside of the existing fisheries footprint), the measure does not bring NEAFC into full compliance with the UN General Assembly resolutions. Resolution 64/72, paragraph 119(a) calls on States to conduct impact assessments prior to authorizing bottom fishing in any area and “ensure that vessels do not engage in bottom fishing until such assessments have been carried out”. The resolution does not make a distinction between new or previously unfished areas and existing or “historically” fished areas.
  3. Managing deep-sea fisheries: The EU proposal to ban fishing for orange roughy went to a vote. The Faroes (Denmark on behalf of the Faroes and Greenland) opposed the proposal and voted no. Russia voted no. Iceland and Norway abstained although Norway stated that while it agrees that the fishery should be closed, the proposal from the EU would require that any incidental catch of orange roughy in other fisheries would have to be discarded at sea. This is illegal under Norwegian regulations. Earlier in the week, ICES was asked to provide updated information on orange roughy catches in the Northeast Atlantic. They did so — repeating the same advice that ICES has provided to NEAFC over the past few years that no directed fishery for orange roughy should be permitted.

No regulations were adopted to manage bottom fisheries for the 40-50 other species reported caught in deep-sea fisheries in the region, including endangered species of deep-sea sharks. However, proposals to ban directed fisheries for basking sharks, porbeagle sharks and spurdog sharks were adopted.

The Census of Marine Life made a presentation to NEAFC on 11 November which was well-attended by NEAFC delegates. The presentations included the results of the recent MAR-ECO expeditions, including striking footage of corals and sponges along the Mid Atlantic Ridge, and presentations from scientists from Oxford University and the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. Amongst other issues, they reported on their research on the deep-sea trawl footprint in the Northeast Atlantic, the results of CoMarge coral and canyon surveys in the Northeast Atlantic, and marine life on the deep abyssal plain. Several of the speakers highlighted the serious scientific concerns over the impacts of deep-sea bottom trawling in the Northeast Atlantic region.