International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas

In 2004, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) called upon States and regional fisheries management organisations or arrangements (RFMO/As) to apply the precautionary approach for the interim prohibition of destructive fishing practices, including bottom trawling that has adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) (UNGA Res. 59/25, Art. 66).

Following this resolution, FAO developed the International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas (Deep-sea Fisheries Guidelines), which were adopted in 2008. These guidelines provide recommendations on governance frameworks and management of deep-sea fisheries with the aim to ensure long-term conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources in the deep-seas, and to prevent significant adverse impacts on VMEs. The Deep-Sea Fisheries Guidelines also address major concerns about VMEs and provide: 1) an internationally agreed-upon set of criteria for identifying a VME, and 2) detailed suggestions for management actions to take once a marine area is designated as vulnerable.

A framework is laid out in the Guidelines for data collection, assessments and monitoring, and control and surveillance. All management measures taken by States or RFMO/As should be in compliance with other international instruments for the management of deep-sea fisheries, and be based on the precautionary approach and the ecosystem approach to fisheries.

The Deep-sea Fisheries Guidelines also call on States to cooperate through RFMO/As and/or establish and strengthen RFMO/As to this end. While RFMO/As are given a central place in the management of these fisheries, the Deep-sea Fisheries Guidelines also offer advice on interim measures that may be taken in areas where no competent RFMO/As exist, or where an RFMO/A is in the process of developing the range of policies and measures required for effective management of deep-sea fisheries.

The management of VMEs by RFMO/As and States is a continuous process (Deep-sea Fisheries Guidelines, paragraphs 47 – 53). New or potential VMEs are being identified following scientific surveys and reports from commercial vessels, and temporary measures established until verification is confirmed. Existing closures are reviewed periodically and new management measures taken where circumstances have changed.

For further details, and for information on the management of deep-sea fish stocks, please refer to the Deep-seas Fisheries Guidelines.