NAFO falls short on deep-sea protections

Date: September 23, 2011

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Sept. 23, 2011)—The 33rd annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) ended today with countries failing to agree on significant, additional measures to safeguard vulnerable deep-sea marine ecosystems. While NAFO has made progress since 2006 in closing certain seamounts and areas of corals and sponges to fishing—including deciding at this year’s meeting to extend those closures until 2014—it has not yet fully implemented a comprehensive assessment of fragile high-seas ecosystems. This was a requirement of the United Nations (U.N.) sustainable fisheries resolutions adopted in 2006 and 2009.

“While we recognize many of the steps NAFO has taken, the fact is that the deep sea doesn’t have time for bureaucratic bickering. We are pleased that NAFO agreed to gather more comprehensive information on the types of species and ecosystems that may be vulnerable to damage by bottom fisheries,” said Susanna Fullermarine conservation coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax. “ But specific measures taken at this meeting – such as reducing the amounts of sponges caught in a trawl that triggers a vessel to move away from an area from 800kg to 600kg and 400kg in new fishing areas  – are not scientifically based and still far too high.”

The NAFO meeting was held on the heels of a U.N. workshop that examined the actions of countries and regional fisheries management organizations to protect the deep sea from unsustainable bottom fishing. The U.N. review highlighted both the progress and the gaps in fully implementing resolutions that called for urgent action to protect vulnerable marine ecosystem to fishing and for countries to conduct impact assessments of their deep-sea fishing activities.

“We are still in the dark as to whether damage to deep-sea ecosystems is or is not occurring from fisheries in the NAFO area,” said Matthew Gianni, policy adviser for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “One of the key elements in the UN resolutions was the commitment to conduct environmental impact assessments before allowing fishing to occur. This week NAFO finally agreed to require such assessments by 2016, 10 years after the original UN resolution was adopted. ”

To its credit, NAFO underwent an independent performance review in 2010, which noted progress in the management of fisheries on the high seas in its coverage area. However, the review also made several recommendations, including the need for increased transparency and enhanced efforts toward ecosystem-based management and biodiversity protection. All fisheries managed by NAFO are bottom-trawl fisheries with many in deep-sea areas.

“While minimally reducing the threshold for encounters, extending area closures and requiring impact assessments is a step in the right direction, it simply isn’t enough to ensure sustainability and protect deep-sea ecosystems,” said Andrea Kavanagh, director of deep-sea conservation for the Pew Environment Group. “We thank the European Union, the US and Canada for putting forward proposals to protect the deep sea, however given the debate at the U.N. last week, we had hoped to see stronger measures adopted.





The Deep Sea Conservation Campaign was founded in 2004 to address the issue of bottom trawling on the high seas in the absence of an effective governance regime. The coalition is made up of more than 70 NGOs, fisher organizations, and law and policy institutes committed to protecting the deep sea. A coordination team works together with a steering group that consisting of Ecology Action Centre, Greenpeace International, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Environment Group and Seas at Risk. The DSCC compiled a review of actions taken to protect the deep seas from fishing and this can be accessed at

The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works globally to establish pragmatic, science-based policies that protect our oceans, preserve our wildlands and promote clean energy.

The Ecology Action Centre was founded in 1971 and works on a wide variety of environmental issues in Nova Scotia and Canada through education, research and advocacy. EAC has been involved in sustainable fisheries work since the cod collapse in 1992.

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