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Extending responsible fisheries management to the ocean deeps

On World Oceans Day, FAO releases technical guidelines on deep sea fishing

8 June 2009, Rome - On the first-ever UN World Oceans Day FAO has published a set of technical guidelines aimed at helping the fisheries sector reduce its impacts on fragile deep-sea fish species and ecosystems.

The guidelines provide a framework that countries can use, individually and in the context of regional fisheries management organizations, to manage deep sea fisheries (DSF) in high-seas areas outside of national jurisdictions.

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.

Stating that all fishing activity in deep sea areas should be "rigorously managed," the guidelines prescribe steps for identifying and protecting vulnerable ocean ecosystems and provide guidance on the sustainable use of marine living resources in deep-sea areas. They also outline ways that information on the location and status of vulnerable marine ecosystems, including vulnerable deep-sea fish stocks, should be improved.

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 taking place and remedial steps have to be taken if these are likely to occur. And where it is determined that DSF can be undertaken responsibly, appropriate fishing methods should be used to reduce impacts such as impacts on non-target species.

Much needed guidance

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

"These guidelines provide much-needed guidance on the responsible way to approach deep sea fishing, 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.

The guidelines published today were adopted by FAO members at a technical consultation held in Rome in September 2008.

Sensitive ocean ecosystems

Deep sea fishing in the high seas also raise serious concerns about vulnerable non-target species, such as delicate cold water corals and sponges, and also for fragile sea-bottom seep and vent habitats that contain species found nowhere else as well as for underwater seamounts that are often home to sensitive species.

The deep sea is the world's largest habitat, accounting for roughly 50% of the Earth's surface.

World Ocean Day

The idea of celebrating World Oceans Day on June 8th started at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro as the result of a Canadian initiative to inspire awareness and action.

Growing numbers of countries, organizations and individuals used the day to promote awareness of the importance of oceans to all life on Earth. On 5 December 2008 the United Nations General Assembly resolved that starting in 2009 the UN would formally observe World Ocean Day on the 8th of June each year.

UN observances of World Ocean Day are being coordinated by the UN Division of Oceans and the Law of the Sea in partnership UN Oceans, a broad consortium of various UN agencies that includes FAO.

The theme of this year's World Ocean Day is "Our oceans, our responsibility."

United States Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
A deep-sea Red Medusa. When a species like this is caught with a net its soft gelatinous tissue is often heavily damaged.

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