Marine protected areas in the high seas
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.
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)
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
Table 2 - Total percentage of fishable areas and closures in NEAFC
Map 1 - Closed areas on Hatton and Rockall Banks
Map 2 - Closed areas on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
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
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
Closed areas in the Mediterranean Sea
The Southern Ocean
SIODFA Benthic Protected Areas in the SW Indian Ocean
SIODFA Benthic Protected Areas in the SE Indian Ocean
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.