What's Been Done

In the Water

Bottom Trawling

Each of the resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (in 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2011) has been progressively stronger than the last. Though much more still needs to be done, this momentum has led to increasing action by States and regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) to regulate deep-sea fishing on the high seas, in particular bottom trawling. To date, States and RFMOs have not fully implemented the United Nations General Assembly resolutions and much of the high seas still remain unprotected from the unregulated and destructive impact of deep-sea fishing.

Nonetheless, as result of our work and in response to the debate and resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, significant changes have already occurred on the water. Tangible results achieved, moving chronologically backward from the most recent, include:

  • Closure to bottom fishing of a substantial portion of deep-sea areas at fishable depths (i.e. < 2000m) on the high seas of the Northeast Atlantic south of Iceland, including a number of areas where cold water coral reefs are known to occur; the prohibition of deep-sea bottom gillnet fishing; and environmental impact assessments (EIAs) required for bottom fishing in most of the remaining high seas areas.
  • Closure in the Northwest Atlantic of 12 deep-sea areas along the continental slope to all bottom fishing, to protect concentrations of corals and sponges; closure of six seamount areas to bottom fishing (with the proviso that up to 20% of each area could be fished on an exploratory basis), and prior EIAs required for any bottom-fishing in previously unfished areas.
  • Negotiation of a new treaty to establish a North Pacific RFMO to regulate deep-sea fisheries and a requirement for EIAs to be conducted for all high seas bottom fisheries in the region.
  • Negotiation of a new treaty to establish a South Pacific RFMO to regulate deep-sea fisheries; a temporary prohibition on the expansion of bottom fishing in the South Pacific into new high seas areas; the closure of some 40% of the area previously bottom trawled by New Zealand's orange roughy fleets on the high seas; and a ban on bottom gillnet fishing.
  • Closure of 10 seamount areas in the Southeast Atlantic (revised in 2010), and a prohibition of bottom gillnet fishing.
  • A prohibition on bottom trawling and bottom gillnet fishing in Antarctic (Southern Ocean) waters, and a requirement for EIAs as a pre-condition for bottom longline fisheries.
  • Prohibition of bottom trawling below 1000m in the Mediterranean, and closure of three areas to bottom fishing at lesser depths to protect a seamount, cold seep and cold-water corals.

All of these actions are positive steps forward, and many of them will serve to protect some species and deep-sea ecosystems in some areas. However, the set of actions called for by the United Nations General Assembly are far from having been fully implemented. The impact assessments produced to date are partial and inconclusive at best and while some high seas areas have been closed to bottom fishing, many high seas areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) are likely to occur remain open to bottom fishing with few or no constraints. The move-on rule is often the only conservation regulation in place to protect VMEs in both existing and new or unfished areas; however it is of limited value in protecting VMEs given the high threshold levels established as triggers for the move-on rule in many of the high seas fisheries.

There has been a general reluctance on the part of many States and RFMOs to close areas where bottom fishing currently takes place or has taken place over the past 5-20 years. Finally, most high seas bottom fisheries target (and take as bycatch) long lived, slow growing, low fecundity species which are highly vulnerable to overexploitation and depletion. The absence of sufficient information on the biological characteristics and status of most target and bycatch species impacted by high seas bottom fisheries to establish conservation and management measures to ensure long-term sustainability.

The DSCC has conducted two in-depth reviews of the actions taken by States and RFMOs to implement the UN General Assembly resolutions. The most recent can be found in a DSCC-published report.

Deep Seabed Mining

For the time being the real action is at the negotiating table, rather than in the water. The DSCC and a small handful of other civil society groups have participated in the ISA annual meetings in Jamaica every year. Given the pace of developments, there is now an urgent need for more resources and attention to be invested in ensuring that conservation and sustainability — and indeed human development - goals are integral to the regulations put in place. As they currently stand, the ISA requirements are very much skewed in favour of economic gains at any cost.