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Background – About VMEs

The vulnerable marine ecosystem (VME) concept emerged from discussions at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and gained momentum after UNGA Resolution 61/105. The FAO International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas (FAO DSF Guidelines) build on the resolution and provide details on the VME concept for fisheries management. VMEs are now firmly embedded in regimes for the management of deep-sea fisheries in the areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ).

VMEs are groups of species, communities or habitats that may be vulnerable to impacts from fishing activities. The vulnerability of an ecosystem is related to the vulnerability of its constituent population, communities or habitats. Specific criteria are included in the FAO DSF Guidelines to assist States in defining VMEs and how to identify them.

Deep-sea fishing activities sometimes employ types of fishing 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 ecosystems and damage can occur, thereby 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. Significant adverse impacts (SAIs) to an ecosystem can occur as a result of fishing activities. Once a VME has been designated and potential SAIs assessed, the FAO DSF Guidelines recommend specific conservation and management measures.