Conservation and Protection of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems
Deep-sea fishing activities sometimes employ gears that can, in the normal course of operation, come into contact with the sea floor. This can have a negative effect on both living marine resources and their ecosystems. The vulnerability of an ecosystem is related to the vulnerability of its constituent population, communities or habitats. When fishing gears come into contact with the seafloor and other structural elements of the ecosystem, damage can occur increasing the physical vulnerability of the ecosystem. Another concern is overfishing and the resulting vulnerability of target stocks, associated species and habitats. Selective removal of a species may change the manner in which the ecosystem functions making the ecosystem functionally vulnerable.
Some deep-sea species are highly productive and can support larger fisheries. But, as fisheries expand their depth, more low productivity species are caught either as targeted species or as by-catch. This can lead to rapid resource depletion among certain species. In addition, some deep-sea marine ecosystems can be easily disturbed and are slow to recover from disturbances.
There is great international concern that these ecosystems be protected from further destruction, as expressed, for example, by the United Nations General Assembly, notably in Resolution 61/105, which called on FAO to develop technical guidance on the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the context of deep-sea fishing.
Specific criteria to assist States in defining what vulnerable marine ecosystems comprise, how to identify them and what actions to take once they are identified are contained in the International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas. These Guidelines also set forth criteria to identify the significant adverse impacts to an ecosystem that can occur as a result of fishing activities. Once a VME is designated and significant adverse impacts assessed, the guidelines encourage specific conservation and management measures. See the International Guidelines for a full description.