Review of United Nations Landmark Resolutions To Protect the Deep Sea Reveals That There Is Still Work To Do

Date: August 5, 2016

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) wrapped up a two-day workshop today in New York to review the implementation of a set of landmark resolutions adopted by the General Assembly over the past ten year calling for action by States to prevent damage to deep-sea ecosystems from destructive fishing practices.        

“These reviews at the level of the United Nations are important to hold States accountable for the commitments they’ve made to the international community to protect deep-sea ecosystems on the high seas from the harmful impacts of fishing” explains Matthew Gianni of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “Unfortunately, what we’ve learned at the workshop this week is that while progress has been made, these resolutions have not been fully implemented after 10 years”.

An advanced report prepared by the United Nations Secretary-General ahead of the workshop remarked that, “Overall, while a number of actions have been taken, implementation of the resolutions continues to be uneven and further efforts are needed. Unless timely actions are taken by all the stakeholders concerned, overfishing of deep-sea species is likely to continue to occur.”

These findings are consistent with a new report released this week from Deep Sea Conservation Coalition that reviewed implementation of the resolutions ten years on. The report found significant improvements in State’s ability to prevent damage from destructive fishing practices over the last decade, but concludes that implementation of the UNGA landmark Resolutions falls short and leaves vast parts of the ocean unprotected from destruction by deep-sea bottom trawling.

Duncan Currie from DSCC explained, “It is very clear what the protection of marine biodiversity requires. No assessments should mean no bottom fishing, and no measures should also mean no fishing. Assessments, stock assessments and managing bycatch are the core business of fisheries management organizations, and it is high time that this was done.”

The DSCC analysis 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 globally agreed standards, 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 bottom 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.

“The United Nations World Ocean Assessment stated that the deep sea contains the largest source of biodiversity on the planet” explains Katie Schleit of the Ecology Action Center, also a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “Partial measures for such an important area of the global commons are not acceptable. States and regional fisheries bodies need to continue to implement these resolutions as a matter of urgency.”

Alfred Schumm, from WWF said “Stopping destructive fisheries practices is an urgent challenge. We must protect sensitive deep sea ecosystems like seamounts, submarine canyons, sponge grounds and cold-water corals by excluding these areas from bottom trawling and other destructive fishing methods. Only by banning harmful fishing practices and introducing effective management can we successfully rebuild stocks, and end the destruction of fragile marine ecosystems and species. WWF is keen to support low impact fishing gear innovations”.