Implementation of United Nations Landmark Resolutions To Protect The Deep Sea Is Inadequate

Date: July 29, 2016


A new report out today, reviewing ten years of international commitment to conserve biodiversity in the deep sea, finds significant improvements in our ability to prevent damage from destructive fishing practices over the last decade, but concludes that implementation of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) landmark Resolutions falls short and leaves vast parts of the ocean unprotected from destruction by deep-sea bottom trawling.

The analysis by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) was shared with scientists at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Canada this week, and has been timed to coincide with the UNGA’s formal Review of progress towards the implementation of UN Resolutions 59/25 (2004), 61/105 (2006), 64/72 (2009) and 66/68 (2011) taking place in New York on August 1-2. These Resolutions commit high seas fishing nations to preventing damage to deep-sea ecosystems via a series of well-defined actions. They represent a decade’s worth of political commitment to prevent fisheries damage to deep-sea ecosystems.

The report, which offers a region-by-region analysis of the actions required and taken by States, highlights a series of important developments, which have undoubtedly resulted from the UNGA Resolutions. These include three new agreements establishing regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) entering into force to manage high seas bottom fisheries in the North Pacific, South Pacific and Southern Indian Ocean, as well measures taken by several RFMOs to restrict certain destructive bottom fishing gear and/or protect vulnerable marine ecosystems.

However, the analysis also shows that there are significant areas where the requirements of the Resolutions remain either partially or entirely unfulfilled, leaving vast areas of the ocean unprotected. Many of the impact assessments that have been carried out for bottom fisheries in the high seas are not consistent with UN FAO established criteria, while cumulative impact assessments have not been conducted in any region. Many areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems are known or likely to occur remain open to bottom fishing, and trawling continues to be the most pervasive form of bottom fishing on the high seas. This despite concerns repeatedly highlighted by science regarding the destructive impact of deep-sea bottom trawling on species, ecosystems, biodiversity and – more recently – the capacity of deep-sea species and sediment ecosystems to capture and sequester carbon.

Matthew Gianni, lead author of the report said: “We’re saying progress has been made in protecting deep-sea ecosystems from the harmful impacts of fishing but much more needs to be done. It has been ten years since the first of the landmark UN resolutions was adopted and eight years since the UN called on States and RFMOs to adopt and implement the actions called for in the resolutions or else prohibit deep-sea bottom fisheries on the high seas. Nonetheless we are also saying “don’t give up” because the job must be done. For the most part, failure to fully implement the resolutions is due to a lack of political will to apply the precautionary approach to the management of deep-sea fisheries in the face of scientific uncertainty as required under international law. We all recognize that the deep-sea is poorly studied but at the same time a global reservoir of biodiversity and it is important that we protect the oceans from unnecessary destruction.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to States and RFMOs, including a sharper focus on impact assessments and a keener approach to vulnerable marine ecosystems which are still overlooked by some regions meaning protective measures are not taken.

Susanna Fuller, of the Ecology Action Centre and co-author of the report, said “At the upcoming review of actions taken to protect deep sea ecosystems and fisheries from the impacts of fishing, we will be making a strong case for commitment of States to fully implement these resolutions – and set a clear timeline for this work and its completion.”

Duncan Currie, Legal Advisor to the DSCC and co-author of the report, added, “All States, whether they fish on the high seas or not have a role to play in ensuring that UNGA Resolutions are implemented in full because these resolutions represent the interests of the international community as a whole. We are calling on delegates to show they are still care by upholding the Resolutions and committing to another Review. Regardless of what happens in New York this week, we need an agreement that damage to the vulnerable marine ecosystems in the deep must be stopped.”