Aquaculture for all

New Guidelines to Protect Deep-sea Fish

GENERAL - Countries agree on guidelines for protecting deep-sea species and habitats.

After two years of preparation and negotiation, FAO Members* have adopted international guidelines aimed at limiting the impact of fishing on fragile deep sea fish species and habitats.

The guidelines provide a framework that fishing nations should use when operating in high-seas areas outside of national jurisdictions, where many deep sea fisheries (DSF) are located.

Stating that all fishing activity in deep sea areas should be “rigorously managed,” they lay out measures to be taken to identify and protect vulnerable ecosystems and provide guidance on the sustainable use of marine living resources in deep-sea areas.

Additional recommendations include:
  • Fishing nations should assess the deep-sea fishing being undertaken by their fleets in order to determine if any significant adverse impacts are involved;
  • Deep sea fishing activity should cease in any area where significant adverse impacts to vulnerable marine ecosystems are thought to be taking place;
  • Where DSF can be undertaken responsibly, more appropriate fishing methods should be used to reduce impacts on non-target species.
The guidelines also outline steps for improving information on the location and status of vulnerable marine ecosystems and deep sea fisheries.

Filling in a major gap

Managing deep-sea fisheries in high seas areas outside of countries' exclusive economic zones has always been difficult, since it requires multilateral solutions involving not only nations whose vessels are engaged in deep-sea fisheries but other interested countries as well.

“Until now, there really hasn’t been an international framework for tackling this issue. These guidelines represent one of the few practical instruments of this nature, and are a breakthrough in that they address both environmental and fisheries management concerns in an integrated manner,” said Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director General of FAO’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Sensitive fish and habitats

Many deepwater fish species grow slowly, reach sexual maturity late, and may not always reproduce every year. As a result they have low resilience to intensive fishing, and recovery from overfishing can take generations.

Some deep sea fishing in the high seas also raise serious concerns about other vulnerable species, such as delicate cold water corals and sponges; fragile sea-bottom seep and vent habitats that contain species found nowhere else, and specific features like underwater seamounts that are often home to sensitive species.

Because deep sea fishing is a relatively new activity and requires considerable resources in terms of investment and technology, few countries have so far developed policies and plans specifically related to managing it, even in their own waters.

* FAO invited all its 191 members to participate in the Technical Consultation, which was attended by 69 countries, the European Community and the Faroe Islands, as well as observers from 14 intergovernmental and international non-governmental organizations. Ms Jane Willing, Manager of International Relations for New Zealand's Ministry of Fisheries, chaired the consultation.

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