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:
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.
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.