Friday 16 September 2011

Taking the Message to the United Nations

Today concluded a two-day UN General Assembly Workshop on high seas bottom fishing to address impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems and the long-term sustainability of deep sea fish stocks.  The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition was active throughout the workshop. We held a side event and a lunchtime panel debate featuring leading scientists, presented twice during plenary, and hosted an evening reception for further discussion that recreated the underwater world for “total immersion” for the delegates.   

The workshop clarified the threats of bottom fishing to deep-sea ecosystems and demonstrated unequivocably that the international community is failing to protect them. A report of the meeting will now be developed and it is likely that the outcomes of the Review will be reflected in the Sustainable Fisheries General Assembly Resolution 2011. The first part of the negotiations close this afternoon and re-open in November.

The DSCC side event provided a comprehensive overview of the implementation failures of regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) and deep-sea fishing countries.  Lisa Speer, Director of the International Oceans Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, chaired a discussion with leading scientists -   Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut, Elliott Norse of the Marine Conservation Institute, Alex Rogers of Oxford University, Les Watling of the University of Hawaii, and Phil Weaver of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

Matthew Gianni, Political and Policy Advisor to the DSCC, and Karen Sack, Deputy Director of the Pew Environment Group, made presentations during plenary on the urgent need for implementation of UN resolutions to protect the deep sea. 

Our Worth Saving mascot, Roundnose Grenadier, got all dolled up to meet the UN delegations and have a glass of wine at our evening reception.

Scientists Call for End to Deep-sea Fishing

A new paper in Marine Policy journal explains that deep-sea fishing should be banned because it has sequentially depleted areas of high productivity and destroyed vulnerable habitats.

The Washington Post has an excellent article with very telling quotes.  For example, here’s Elliot Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Institute (a coalition partner) and the study’s lead author:
We’re now fishing in the worst places to fish…These things don’t come back.
And Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute:
What they’re doing out there is more like mining than fishing.
And Daniel Pauly, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia:
It’s a waste of resources, it’s a waste of biodiversity, it’s a waste of everything…In the end, there is nothing left.
Ultimately, however, this knowledge must me translated into policy changes - exactly what we at the DSCC are trying to do.  The EU Commissioner of Fisheries, Maria Damanki, highlights this issue in the Washington Post article.  Here's a final good quote from the article:
Maria Damanaki, the European Union’s commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, said in an interview that she would like to reduce fishing on the high seas and cut subsidies for deep-sea trawlers.
“I’ll try. I really agree there’s a danger there, so we have to be prudent,” said Damanaki, adding that nations such as France, Denmark, Portugal and Spain resist such efforts. “We have to try to persuade them to stop this.”

CLICK HERE for a summary of the study put out by the Lenfest Ocean Program. 

Thursday 15 September 2011

An Inconvenient Truth for the Oceans

Editor's Note: This post is written by guest blogger Sebastian Losada, Senior Policy Advisor with Greenpeace International, focused on oceans issues. Greenpeace is a long-time DSCC coalition member.

I recently read a very comprehensive, just published, scientific paper, Sustainability of Deep-sea Fisheries, in preparation for a Greenpeace contribution on the United Nations Deep Sea Fisheries Workshop this week. The paper provides an excellent overview of the issues surrounding the exploitation of deep sea fish stocks and particularly why the ecology of the deep sea – fish with a late maturity age, low fecundity and a low productivity environment – makes most of them unsuitable for sustainable exploitation. In other words, the only way to exploit most of these long-lived species in a profitable manner is to deplete them. This raises the question: should we interpret the activity as deep-sea fishing or deep-sea mining?

The authors of the paper point out that such low productivity is an inconvenient truth for managers, countries, regional fisheries organizations and UN bodies themselves and ask whether they will choose to overlook such an inconvenience.  A clear answer must be found between now and November, as members of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) negotiate a new resolution on sustainable fisheries. In doing so, they will have to review whether fishing States who are bottom fishing on the high seas have implemented the measures that the UNGA called for in two previous resolutions agreed in 2006 and 2009.

Deadlines have not been respected. The 2006 Resolution called on States to take concrete actions to ensure the sustainability of deep sea fisheries by 31 December 2008 at the latest. These actions were far from sufficiently taken and the 2009 resolution called again on countries to apply the measures.

Yet, here we are again, learning that most countries still haven't done what they agreed to do and deep-fish populations are increasingly depleted. You can find details of this failure here.

The simple reality is that since 2006 we have continued to lose genetic diversity of great value and habitats that took thousands of years to form. We’ve been hearing from scientists that it will take decades or centuries for impacted deep-sea ecosystems to recover. And some may never recover!

Some high seas bottom fishing nations and the fishing industry have explained this morning how – in their own view – they have already accomplished a great deal and that much progress has been made in regional fisheries management organizations (‘RFMOs’). But in reality, these organizations are composed of fishing States which means that getting them to agree to a precautionary approach to fishing is like getting the driver of a Ferrari to be happy with a maximum speed limit of 50 kilometers per hour!

Responsible deep-sea fisheries management may be possible in some cases, however, the  very limited progress that has been made to date is mostly the result of the pressure generated by the resolutions adopted by the UNGA. Without it, our high seas' biodiversity would be in worse shape. The high seas are part of our collective global commons so they don't belong to a single country. As such, their future should not be in the hands of just a few countries with an economic interest in their exploitation—just 10 nations are responsible for 80% of the high seas deep-sea bottom fishing! (1)  Thankfully, these 10 states  have to face a second inconvenient truth – that we all have a say in who fishes and how they fish in the global commons.

I hope and urge the UNGA to call on all countries to ensure the sustainable exploitation of deep-sea fisheries or otherwise immediately cease their fishing activities. To help us achieve this, you can sign the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition petition. Given the multiple threats the oceans are subject to, be it overfishing, oceans acidification, climate change or pollution, the UNGA oversight is crucial. Hopefully delegates will send a strong message that the UN agreements on the deep sea have to be respected. It would be a strong signal from the international community and a strong precedent to further the work to protect our oceans.


(1) A great deal of deep-sea fishing is what is called 'high seas bottom fishing'.  High seas bottom fishing States include, among others, Australia, China, France, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, the Russian Federation and South Korea.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

The Impact of Deep-Sea Fisheries and Implementation of UN Resolutions: A Report of an International Scientific Workshop

This week marks the official release of a report from an international scientific workshop held in Lisbon in May 2011 (PDF here).  The workshop brought together 22 scientists and fisheries experts from around the world to consider the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions adopted in 2006 and 2009 on high seas bottom fisheries. Specifically, what progress has been made and what are the outstanding issues?

Unfortunately, this group of experts found implementation to be lacking (the same conclusion presented in the new DSCC review – Unfinished Business).

Here are some key conclusions:
Generally, there has been a failure of regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) to collect the necessary data for environmental impact assessments, so these assessments have been nonexistent, partial or inconclusive. Many areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) are likely to occur are still being fished and the precautionary principle is not being applied…
No RFMOs have responded in the same way to the resolutions. Instead, RFMOs have taken independent action with varying degrees of effectiveness. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR) has come closest to fully implementing the provisions of the UNGA resolutions…
[M]uch fishing activity is carried out in the absence of knowledge on fish stock structure, genetics and life-history characteristics of either the fished species or the bycatch species. This makes it impossible to use conventional fisheries management measures such as catch quotas, which are based on estimates of stock biomass. Hence other approaches, such as closures of large areas, will need to be taken.
Clearly, it is time for the international community to take action and ensure that high seas bottom fishing nations follow through on their international commitments.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Put the brakes on deep-sea fishing

(Amplify'd from the Washington Post) 

Deep below the ocean surface lies a cold, hostile environment where the light of day cannot penetrate. The life-forms inhabiting this murky world grow slowly, mature late and take time to reproduce. Many species live 30 years or more, some up to the grand age of 150. Most have not yet been defined by science.

This dark void, which lies beyond any country’s national jurisdiction, is in trouble.

The world’s deep-sea catch is steadily declining, and the high vulnerability of these fish populations and diverse marine ecosystems is well documented. Last year, officials from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea declared that in the Northeast Atlantic, 100 percent of all targeted deep-sea species have been fished “outside safe biological limits.” Yet the fishing continues, via trawlers dragging enormous weighted nets that, in a single pass, scrape clean the ocean floor.

This week, the United Nations will conduct a review of high-seas fishing practices that could ultimately help save deep-sea ecosystems. Since 2004, a series of resolutions has been negotiated and approved, outlining a plan to safeguard the biological diversity of the deep ocean. Now fishing countries will once again be assessed to see if they have done what they pledged to do: protect deep-sea life while fishing in a sustainable way.

The answer, according to experts and environmental organizations around the world, is no.

After nearly a decade of talk, scientists and conservationists are asking the United Nations to take action and declare that any deep-sea fishing that doesn’t meet the terms of these resolutions is illegal, unregulated and unreported, and must be stopped.

While enforcement of these regulations is critical, what makes the destruction of the deep sea truly senseless is its cost — which is paid for by public money. Fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly and economist Ussif Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia examined subsidies to international bottom-trawl fleets and found that governments around the globe pay $152 million per year to prop up these fisheries.

Government subsidization of fishing is not new. But without substantial taxpayer support, these operations would incur losses of $50 million annually. In addition to the waste and cost, deep-sea catches are also relatively insignificant as money-earners for major economies. The European Union, for example, has one of the world’s largest deep-sea fishing fleets, yet its catches represent just 2 percent of the total value of all E.U. fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic. Meanwhile, the destruction from the deep-sea trawlers is irreparable.

Bottom fishing on the high seas is a global activity carried out by a small number of countries. A technical paper prepared for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in 2008 that 285 vessels worldwide are engaged in these high-seas operations and are registered to 27 flag states. The European community has the largest number of vessels (103), with the majority flagged to Spain. Other flag states with a relatively large number of vessels include New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and Australia. Deep-sea fish products are typically consumed in Europe, the United States and Japan.

We are spending millions in public funds to wreck seascapes that take millennia to form. Governments must realize that deep-sea fishing not only wastes taxpayer dollars but that destroying the unique marine life in the deep sea for a relatively small catch of slow-growing fish is a bad investment.

Karen Sack is director of International Ocean Conservation at Pew Environment Group.

Deep Trouble for the Deep Sea

The Pew Environment Group, an active member of the DSCC, has just released this new video featuring spectacular images and a most important message: the deep sea is in deep trouble!   Check out the video and check out their Protecting the Deep Sea campaign.

Closed Areas Do Work

FishNewsEU reports that Australia’s eastern stock of Orange Roughy is rebuilding well.  The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the national government body for scientific research in Australia, has concluded that the eastern stock increased by 7,400 tonnes between 2006 and 2010. 

Why the increase?  Because Australia took the important step and created closed areas to allow the stock to rebuild.  This offers hope for Orange Roughy, which has been severely overfished around the world.

See here for footage of orange roughy down in the deep: