High Seas Fisheries Organization Agrees to Important Conservation Measures, Closes a New Area to Bottom Fishing & Adopts Policy to Further Prevent Shark Finning

Date: September 23, 2016

Varadero, Cuba—The 38th Annual Meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) concluded today in Varadero, Cuba. This year, expectations were high that NAFO Contracting Parties would take further measures to protect elements of the marine ecosystem and vulnerable sharks and skates, and environmentalists at the Ecology Action Centre, who attended as the only civil society observers, are pleased to see that some of these measures will be moving forward.  

This year saw the long-awaited completion of NAFO’s impact assessment of bottom fisheries on vulnerable marine ecosystems such as corals, sponges and seapens. Among its findings, the assessment concluded that 84% of known concentrations of seapen areas remain open to bottom trawling. After much deliberation over the past week, an additional closure was agreed in order to protect vulnerable seapen communities, however this closure is only until 2018 when it will be reviewed.

“Given the results of the fisheries impact assessment, we expected countries to follow scientific advice and agree to further protections as it is clear that several vulnerable areas remain at risk of impacts from bottom fishing,” says Susanna Fuller, Senior Marine Conservation Coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. ” Scientists first advised closing this area in 2014, so we are pleased that it was finally agreed this year, adding ~240 kmof area closed to bottom fishing. Canada championed this proposal which we very much appreciate.”

NAFO also accepted a proposal tabled by the United States to consider the closure of six additional seamounts at the 2017 meeting. Despite discussion, no measures were taken to limit the impacts of scientific surveys on coral and sponge closed areas. NAFO committed to a second assessment of bottom fishing impacts by 2020, including addressing cumulative impacts of multiple fisheries. Also agreed was a protocol for sharing information on fishing activity given the overlap of oil and gas activities in some NAFO closed areas. NAFO amended its rules of procedure to be in line with the FAO Port State Measures Agreement, which marks significant progress over last year.

NAFO made important progress on the protection of sharks caught in NAFO fisheries. After years of debate, the Parties adopted a policy that is considered best practice to enforce existing bans on shark finning, requiring all sharks caught in NAFO fisheries to be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies. This policy helps to improve data collection and simplify enforcement in fisheries that bring sharks to shore.

“We are thrilled that NAFO Parties finally adopted a fins-attached policy,” says Katie Schleit, Senior Marine Campaign Coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. “We are especially pleased that Canada supported this measure for the first time, and has announced that this would be their position both domestically and internationally. We are hopeful that NAFO’s actions this week will help to spur other fisheries organizations to do the same, and we are glad that Canada will now be lending its support in this effort that requires global action.”

Despite progress on sharks and ecosystem protections, several fisheries remain under moratoria in the NAFO area. Disappointingly, NAFO also agreed to several quotas that remain well above the catch levels, including for the vulnerable thorny skate.

“Every year, we see incremental progress in international fisheries management – but the reality is that countries are taking a long time to put in place measures that have been agreed by all Parties at the United Nations General Assembly, in some cases more than a decade ago,” says Fuller.

There is an increasing amount of focus on how regional fisheries management organizations like NAFO protect biodiversity on the high seas, particularly with the ongoing negotiations towards a new agreement under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, so that marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments could be legally established on the high seas.



For more information, please contact:

Dr. Susanna Fuller, Senior Marine Conservation Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre, 2705 Fern Lane Halifax, Nova Scotia B3K 4J6 p: 902-446-4840 c: 902-483-5033 e: marine@ecologyaction.ca www.ecologyaction.ca savethehighseas.org

Katie Schleit, Senior Marine Campaign Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre, 2705 Fern Lane Halifax, Nova Scotia B3K 4J6 p: 902-446-4840 c: 902-488-4078 e: kschleit@ecologyaction.ca www.ecologyaction.ca savethehighseas.org


Background Information

Observer Recommendations to NAFO

EAC and Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) recommendations to the 38th NAFO Annual Meeting can be found here.

As per our policy recommendations, where we note the results of the SAI assessment show that:

  • Of known high concentrations of sponges, 35% of the sponge area is either impacted or at high risk of impact, 27% of sponge biomass is either impacted or at high risk of impact.
  • Of known high concentrations of large gorgonians, 33% of coral area is either impacted or at high risk of impact, 37% of coral biomass is either impacted or at high risk of impact
  • Of known high concentrations of seapens, 84% of known seapen area is either impacted or at high risk of impact and 81% of seapen biomass is either impacted or at high risk of impact.

Review of global actions on the high seas to protect areas from bottom fishing

The DSCC published a review in 2016 of actions taken by RFMOs to implement the UNGA resolutions, concluding that while there has been progress in protecting areas from bottom fishing on the high seas, there are still areas left unprotected, in all ocean areas. According to NAFO, areas closed to fishing total ~38?0,?511 km2, however not all areas where VMEs are known to occur have been closed to fishing activity.

Shark Finning

Fins-attached policy is considered best practice for enforcing existing shark finning bans. Shark finning is the practice of removing a shark’s fins, the most valuable part of the shark, at sea and discarding the remaining carcass overboard. Shark finning has been illegal in Canada since 1994. Canada is one of the few developed fishing nations that until this meeting maintained that “other effective measures”, rather than a fins-attached policy, such as the 5% fin-to-body weight ratio rule could be used to manage shark finning. Adoption of the fins attach policy eliminates problems with data collection and enforcement by simply requiring that all shark fins remain naturally attached to the body at the time of landing.