General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean - GFCM

Report of the Working Group on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems and Essential Fish Habitats (WGVME-EFH)

7 March, 2023 -10 March, 2023

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The Working Group on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems and Essential Fish Habitats (WGVME-EFH) was held in FAO headquarters, Rome, Italy in hybrid mode on 8–10 March 2023 and was anticipated by a special session dedicated to the bamboo coral, Isidella elongata, organized on 7 March. It was attended by 114 experts from research institutes, universities, scientific museums, national administrations, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, as well as participants from the European Commission Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs andFisheries (DG-MARE), the FAO Fisheries Department and the GFCM Secretariat. The main objectives were to: i) identify VME and EFH priority areas for spatial protection management measures, including Isidella elongata facies, as emerged from the special session organized on this species; ii) provide technical feedback to the Marti and Séte fisheries restricted area (FRA) proposal (revised after 2022); iii) start compiling a list of VME-indicators for the Black Sea area; iv) agree on practical proposals for the implementation of GFCM scientific monitoring plans in FRAs (for both VMEs and EFH), according to the guidelines adopted by the SAC in 2022; v) discuss options to extend the current 1 000 m bottom trawl ban to shallower areas; and vi) provide feedback to progress on the mapping of the deep-water red shrimp fishery. The WGVME-EFH formulated recommendations about the identification of VME priority areas for the possible adoption of spatial management measures; and agreed on a roadmap to undertake short-term and medium- to long-term actions towards the protection of VMEs formed by the bamboo coral, Isidella elongata, in various areas of the Mediterranean Sea, including by means of a future FRA proposal to the GFCM and the development of pilot surveys. It also formulated recommendations on the further development of scientific monitoring programmes in GFCM FRAs according to their main conservation objective (i.e. conservation of VMEs or EFH), on the need to work in nonEuropean Union countries to get data on the distribution of VME indicators and EFH obtained by means of GFCM surveys, and on further steps to complete the work needed to analyse the overlap between VMEs and the deep-water red shrimp fishery.