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To date, the impact of fishing activities on the biodiversity of the marine environment constitutes the principal reason called upon for the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the high seas. Within the framework of precautionary- and ecosystem-based approaches, MPAs (in particular areas closed to certain fishing activities) could constitute valuable means to reduce the impact of fishing on vulnerable marine habitats and species. Such impacts are particularly acute in fisheries of deepwater demersal species, both because of the use of non-selective gears that potentially impact fragile habitats, and because they often target marine species with low productivity which cannot sustain high rates of exploitation.

As reported by the Expert Consultation organized by FAO in November 2006 on Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas, the management of deepwater fishery resources and the protection of their ecosystems in the high seas raise particular concerns. The need for adequate international and regional legal frameworks for implementing spatial-based fisheries management measures in the high seas and methods to prevent illegal activities are widely noted in international discussions. These concerns are of particular importance to the implementation of high seas MPAs.

In August 2008, the International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas developed through FAO, were adopted by FAO Members at a Technical Consultation in Rome. These guidelines will provide countries and regional fisheries management organizations with a voluntary tool through which to better manage these fisheries for sustainable use and to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems. The establishment of area-based measures is one of the potential management tools for preventing impacts on such ecosystems from fishing. Further information can be found on the meeting website (link) from the Technical Consultation in February 2008 and August 2008.

 

Legal aspects related to the implementation of MPAs in the high seas

The responsibilities of states to contribute and cooperate in the protection of the marine environment and its biodiversity are defined within international conventions and agreements such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the resolutions of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and now the FAO International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas.

Under this global framework, some regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) have oriented their management mandate toward an ecosystem-based approach, and are implementing area-based fishing restrictions aimed at the protection of discrete deep-sea fish stocks and their vulnerable habitats. In some cases, this is done in concert with other regional arrangements or organizations focussing on conservation of the marine environment. Examples of area-based management measures implemented by RFMOs are presented below.

According to a report (link) published by Chatham House, a London-based think tank, there are still gaps in the regulation of fisheries in the high seas. For example, some areas of the high seas are not covered by RFMOs with sufficient mandates for the management of certain fisheries such as those targeting deepwater bentho-pelagic and demersal species. This issue was also discussed in the meetings leading up to the adoption of the FAO Guidelines and was specifically addressed in documents produced for those meetings as well as by the CBD.

 

Compliance and enforceability of MPAs in the high seas

The need for an efficient control and enforcement scheme is another major issue related to the implementation of MPAs in the high seas. Concerning fisheries, many RFMOs suffer from serious problems of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing within their areas (see FAO IUU Technical Guidelines for more information). While Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) are considered a cost-effective tool to enforce regulations restricting the access to a defined area, they do not prevent fishing activity of vessels flagged under states that are not members of the system, requiring additional surveillance tools like Vessels Detection Systems (VDS) based on the use of satellite images. (Click here for further information on VMS). Apart from classic dedicated surveillance, which is costly and complicated to implement in the high seas, regional and international monitoring control and surveillance (MCS) systems are being developed. Parties that employ such systems usually exchange information on vessels authorized to fish in their area of competence, as well as on observations of vessels engaged in IUU fishing activities. The International Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Network for Fisheries-related Activities (International MCS Network) is an example of a network in which members conduct fisheries-related MCS activities both within their national jurisdiction as well as on the high seas. In addition, this network seeks to increase global coordination to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing.

 

Examples of high sea MPAs with fisheries restrictions

Below, regional initiatives for the implementation of high seas MPAs are presented:

A. North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC)
B. North West Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO)
C. South East Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO)
D. General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM)
E. Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)
F. Southern Indian Ocean Deepsea Fishers’ Association (SIODFA)


A. North East Atlantic

The NEAFC Regulatory Area includes area closures to bottom trawling and other static gears. On Hatton and Rockall Banks, six areas are closed to bottom fishing to protect juvenile fish and coldwater corals (see Map 1). In 2009, NEAFC decided to close 330,000 square kilometres to fisheries with gear that is likely to contact the seafloor during the normal course of fishing on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (see Map 2) to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems. In addition, fisheries using gillnets, entangling nets and trammel nets are prohibited below 200 meters.

A further spatially important aspect of bottom fishing regulations in NEAFC is the distinction between new and existing fishing areas. NEAFC recently analysed the extent of its closed areas in relation to fishable areas in its regulatory area and arrived at the rough estimates listed below in Table 1 and 2 (for further information please contact the NEAFC Secretariat).

More detailed information is available on the NEAFC website.

Table 1 - Percentage of fishing areas and closures by type and location in NEAFC

Area of NEAFC Reg. Area

Effective  Fishing  Existing Area

New Fishing Area

Closures 

square km

sq km %

sq km %

sq km %

South of Iceland

4 900 000

42 500

0.9

4 502 200

91.9

355 300

7.3

Norwegian Sea

326 000

 

 

326 000

100

 

 

Barents Sea

71 000

71 000

100

 

 

 

 

Arctic Ocean

275 000

 

 

275 000

100

 

 

 

Table 2 - Total percentage of fishable areas and closures in NEAFC

Fishable Area and Closures

 

square km

%

Fishable Area South of Iceland

655 000

 

All closures

355 300

54

 

 

Map 1 - Closed areas on Hatton and Rockall Banks
Map 1 - Closed areas on Hatton and Rockall Banks

 

Map 2 - Closed areas on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
Map 2 - Closed areas on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge



B. North West Atlantic

Within the NAFO Regulatory Area, there are two areas closed to shrimp fisheries on the Flemish Cap (Division 3M) (see map) during certain times of the year. Furthermore, in order to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) from adverse impacts of bottom fisheries, NAFO members agreed in 2006 to protect four seamount areas from high seas bottom trawling for a four-year period (2007-2010). Two additional seamount areas south of the Grand Banks (Fogo seamounts 1 and 2) were closed in 2008. In addition, a coral protection zone was established in NAFO Division 3O in 2007 and is closed to all fishing activity involving bottom contact gear.

More detailed information is available on the NAFO web site.

Closed areas in NAFO
Closed areas in NAFO



C. South East Atlantic

To date, SEAFO has identified 13 vulnerable marine areas within the SEAFO Area. Of the 13 areas, ten are currently closed to all forms of bottom fishing (see map): the Dampier Seamount (Area 1), the Malahit Guyot Seamount (Area 2), Molloy Seamount (Area 5), Vema Seamount (Area 6), Wust Seamount (Area 7), Africana Seamount (Area 8), Schmidt-Ott and Erica Seamounts (Area 9), Panzarini Seamount (Area 10), the Discovery, Junoy and Shannon Seamounts (Area 11), and the Schwabenland and Herdman Seamounts (Area 12). Six of these areas are considered to be unexploited, while four - the Dampier, Malahit Guyot, Molloy and Vema Seamounts - have been fished to some extent in the past. A further three areas - the Valdivia Bank (Area 3), Ewing Bank (Area 4) and Meter Seamounts (Area 13) - have been proposed for closure, but thus far remain open to fishing.

SEAFO agreed in 2006 to close these ten areas temporarily until 2010, but decided they could be reopened to exploratory fishing under certain precautionary conditions, such as VMEs (including seamounts, hydrothermal vents and cold water corals) having been identified and mapped in the area and an assessment having been made on the impact of any resumption of fishing on such VMEs (submitted to the Scientific Committee for its evaluation and recommendation to the Commission).

More detailed information is available on the SEAFO web site.

 

Area closures in the SEAFO area
Area closures in the SEAFO area



D. Mediterranean Sea

In 2005, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) adopted recommendations requiring members to prohibit the use of towed dredges and trawl net fisheries at depths greater than 1000 metres. More recently, in 2006, three specific areas have been declared fisheries restricted areas to protect corals, cold hydrocarbon seeps and seamounts.

 

Closed areas in the Mediterranean Sea
Closed areas in the Mediterranean Sea


E. Southern Ocean

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has begun to consider scientifically-based criteria for MPA establishment and has undertaken work on the bioregionalization of the Southern Ocean. Although no bottom trawling is currently taking place in the area, one of the area-based measures in place restricts the use of bottom trawling gear in the high-seas parts of the Convention Area to certain areas for which the Commission has conservation measures in place for such gear.

The Southern Ocean
The Southern Ocean


F. Indian Ocean

The Southern Indian Ocean Deepsea Fishers’ Association (SIODFA), which is comprised of the four main companies with bottom trawling operations in the area, has established its own protected areas known as benthic protected areas (BPA). The BPAs are regions where bottom trawling and dredging is forbidden to SIODFA members. SIODFA members have also agreed that mid-water trawling will be banned in the BPAs, but cannot speak for other operators.

SIODFA Benthic Protected Areas in the SW Indian Ocean
SIODFA Benthic Protected Areas in the SW Indian Ocean

 

SIODFA Benthic Protected Areas in the SE Indian Ocean
SIODFA Benthic Protected Areas in the SE Indian Ocean

 

 

Future directions

If today the major threat is considered to be fishing, tomorrow other threats such as bio-prospecting, mining, energy development and CO2 sequestration may arise.  Implementation of spatial management measures will have to be considered in a broader context, rather than solely that of fisheries. In addition, threats affecting the water column, and not only the sea bed or sea floor will have to be considered: pollution, noise, litter, disturbances, etc. will have to be factored into the activities taking place in an area. MPAs or spatially-based management, are one of the few management tools that address the activities of multiple sectors, and therefore might constitute an important tool in the present and future management of deep-sea ecosystems including fisheries in the high seas.

 
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