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:

Unfinished Business: A Review of the Implementation of the Provisions of UNGA Resolutions 61/105 and 64/72

This week the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) releases a new report, Unfinished Business: A Review of the Implementation of the Provisions of UNGA Resolutions 61/105 and 64/72 (PDF).  

The report assesses compliance with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions on high seas bottom fishing.  It is the culmination of many months of engagement with world renowned scientists and our partner organizations.

The assessment finds that:

1) While progress has been made in identifying and protecting some vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) as called for in 61/105 and 64/72, the efforts taken to date are far from comprehensive;

2) The environmental impact assessments of fishing activities called for in both resolutions have not been completed for the majority of bottom fisheries; and

3) Deep-sea fisheries for many species remain unregulated, contrary to explicit language calling for such regulation in both resolutions.

Based on this assessment, the DSCC has concluded that high seas fishing States are, with few exceptions, failing to live up to the provisions of UNGA resolutions 61/105 and 64/72. As a result, deep-sea species are increasingly overexploited and VMEs continue to be significantly damaged.

Looking forward, we hope the international community will act responsibly and implement these resolutions.  If not, these vulnerable species and habitats may be lost forever.

The UN Workshop on Bottom Fishing

Credit: UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto on Flickr

This week, September 15-16, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is holding a workshop reviewing what has been done to limit the impact of bottom fishing on high seas ecosystems.  The review comes just two years after the UN found that resolutions adopted in 2006 and 2009 calling for protective measures were not being fully implemented. 

The official title of the workshop is as follows:
Workshop to discuss implementation of paragraphs 80 and 83 to 87 of resolution 61/105 and paragraphs 117 and 119 to 127 of resolution 64/72 on sustainable fisheries, addressing the impacts of bottom fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems and the long-term sustainability of deep sea fish stocks
You wouldn’t know it from the title, but this workshop is actually quite special.  For the first time ever, the UN will conduct an open review of national and regional actions with regards to deep-sea protection.  In the past, negotiations have taken place behind closed doors leaving few opportunities for civil society to advocate for sustainable resource management practices and the conservation of biodiversity.  This time around, we have been given the opportunity to directly share our views and those of leading scientists who are engaged in deep-sea research. 

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) will be present at the workshop along with numerous coalition member groups.  We’ll hold a side event and an evening reception to inform and encourage action among policymakers, and coalition partners and DSCC leadership will participate in expert panels scheduled into the main agenda.

We hope the conclusions from the workshop will influence the UNGA – and in particular certain countries who are engaged in high seas bottom fishing and regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) – to take much stronger action to see that resolutions protecting the deep sea are implemented.  Learn more about those resolutions here.

We at the DSCC are specifically urging the General Assembly to call for:

1. The immediate cessation of high seas bottom fishing except where conservation measures consistent with UNGA resolutions are in force and have been effectively and fully implemented;

2. The protection of all vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) as identified by the UN FAO, including long-lived fish species, spawning areas on the high seas and unique habitats such as seamounts and canyons; and,

3. The designation of high seas bottom fishing as illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing when it is conducted in contravention of international instruments, including UNGA resolutions.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Roundnose Goes to Paris

Roundnose Grenadier continues to travel the world in search of support. Just last week, Roundnose Grenadier visited Paris to take in the sites and spread the message that the deep sea is worth saving.

The first stop was the Eiffel Tower. Roundnose was a bit confused why you'd build something so tall. After all, there are plenty of enormous seamounts to admire in the ocean!

Afterwards, Roundnose visited the famous Louvre. Though he likes classic Rome sculpture, he spent a while admiring landscape paintings. Just recently Roundnose has considered taking up painting in water colors.

And finally, Roundnose visited the famous Arc de Triomphe. Completed in 1836, it's just a little bit older than Roundnose's friend Orange Roughy (who's at the ripe old age of 150!)

Learn more about where Roundnose Grenadier has been here.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Round and around we go, where will we stop?  We really don't know.  As leading international scientists recently pointed out, the deep sea is in need of protection, yet policy lags.

CLICK HERE to see a quick animation and learn which countries are causing problems this week!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

I Am Worth Saving!!!

Want to save the deep sea?  Then click HERE to give the roundnose grenadier a makeover and send your photo to the UN Secretary General.  Click "Create Your Fish" to send this message to Ban Ki-moon:

Deep sea life must be protected from destructive bottom fishing. It is unacceptable that the UN General Assembly's resolutions of 2006 and 2009 have not been followed. In your review of bottom fishing this September, it is critical that all high seas fishing nations follow all of the UN General Assembly resolutions - or stop deep sea bottom fishing. Deep sea fishing in breach of the UN resolutions is illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. The UN must make this clear, and this damaging and unsustainable fishing must stop.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Alex Rogers & the State of the Ocean

Dr. Alex Rogers is Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Oxford and the Scientific Director at the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).  This quick video was shot at an important meeting at the United Nations in June.  

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Save Deep-sea Sharks: Squalene and Trade Restrictions

Greenland shark, typically ranging at 200-600m depth (Credit: Discovery Channel)

The world has seen important progress made in the fight to protect widely endangered shark populations over the past few years.  In particular, we’ve seen movement in the United States and its territories, in Latin American countries such as Honduras and Chile, and in small island developing States such Palau, the Maldives, and the Bahamas.

In spite of this progress, no specific protections have been extended to deep-sea sharks, which are caught in national and international waters around the world.    

This is why the DSCC welcomes a new effort by the Pew Environment Group, a member of the DSCC since its beginning in 2004.  Pew is calling for trade restrictions to protect endangered deep-sea sharks. 

The ‘Beauty’ of Shark Liver Oil

While coastal and epipelagic species of sharks are sought after for their fins—usually to make shark-fin soup—deep-sea sharks are typically caught for their livers, which may constitute up to 30% of their body weight.

Shark liver oil can be used as an ingredient in cosmetics, and some purport that shark liver oil –marketed under the name ‘Squalene’ – can bestow health benefits.  It is estimated that it takes 3,000 sharks to make just 1 ton of Squalene, and the global market for Squalene is between 1,000-2,000 tons per year.  That means a demand of as many as 6 million deep-sea sharks a year!
Squalene sourced from deep-sea sharks is frequently advertised as a health supplement.  (Credit: Guangzhou By-health Bioengineering Co., Ltd.)
To a lesser extent, shark liver oil is used as a machine lubricant and in some pharmaceutical products. 

Victims of Biology

Deep-sea sharks are at high risk of over-exploitation because they grow very slowly and don’t reach sexual maturity until relatively late in life (anywhere from 12 to 35 years of age!).  Deep-sea shark populations simply can’t recover fast enough from current fishing activities. 

For example, in the Northeast Atlantic, where we have some of the best data on deep-sea shark fisheries, the IUCN classifies the gulper shark (Centrophorus granulosus) as ‘Critically Endangered’ and the leafscale gulper shark (Centrophorus squamosus) and Portuguese dogfish (Centroscymnus coelolepis) as ‘Endangered’.  Four other deep-sea shark species in the Northeast Atlantic are categorized as ‘Vulnerable’. 

In recent years, the European Union has moved to phase out targeted deep-sea shark fisheries, and bycatch will soon no longer be permitted to be sold.  While this is a positive step, it is an easy policy change when their catches have declined so steeply in past years.

Trade Protections

One way to greatly reduce the fishing of deep-sea sharks is to restrict international trade in their by-products to levels that have been deemed sustainable.  The Pew Environment Group has taken the first important step in raising awarenesss of the impacts of international trade with its recent submission to the 25th meeting of the Animals Committee of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

As the submission explains, a number of deep-sea shark species meet the criteria for being listed on Appendix-II of CITES.  These species are the Portuguese shark (Centroscymnus coelolepis), the Leafscale gulper shark (Centrophorus squamosus), and all other species in the Centrophorus genus.  An Appendix-II listing would require that trade in these species by-products be regulated so that trade is ‘non-detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild’.

A Step Forward

The CITES Animals Committee met July 18-22, 2011, providing the conservation community with the opportunity to engage with government representatives, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and other intergovernmental organizations.  Some government representatives and observers thought Pew’s submission raised valid concerns about the state of fisheries for deep-sea sharks.

After much discussion in the working group, the Animals Committee invited all member countries to submit a list of shark species that they believe require additional protections.  These species will then be considered by a working group on sharks at the next Animals Committee meeting in March 2012. 

This request for more species-specific information is important.  Such an open request for species suggestions is uncommon at CITES, and the submissions mean that the species will have the opportunity to be discussed in the future.  All in all, it is a first step in protecting deep-sea sharks before our fishing activities push them over the brink to extinction.

(A summary report of the Animals Committee meeting can be found here.) 

  • C. Gibson, S.V. Valenti, S.V. Fordham, and S.L. Fowler. The conservation status of Northeast Atlantic chondrichthyans: report of the IUCN shark specialist group Northeast Atlantic red list workshop. IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group. Newbury, UK, 2008.
  • Oceana. From Head to Tail: How European Nations Commercialise Shark Products. 2008. Available at:
  • MRAG. Deep Sea Market Study.  Report Prepared for the Pew Environment Group.  April 2011.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A New Era in Deep-sea Exploration

A concept drawing of Virgin Oceanic's new submersible.  Credit: Virgin Oceanic.

We are now at the cusp of a new era in deep-sea exploration.  Over the past year, three commercial submersible operations have launched with the goal of exploring the deepest parts of the ocean.  Part of this is due to advances in materials, and part is due to the interests of wealthy individuals.

As the New York Times writes, these ventures are backed by several big names:

The billionaires and millionaires include Mr. Cameron, the airline mogul Richard Branson and the Internet guru Eric E. Schmidt. Each is building, planning to build or financing the construction of mini-submarines meant to transport them, their friends and scientists into the depths. Entrepreneurs talk of taking tourists down as well.

These ventures will have clear benefits for the scientific community.  Cameron has shared that he is looking to form long-term relationships with oceanic institutions, in addition to the fact that he was recently made a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.  And Schmidt is solely focused on advancing science.   

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Man and the Last Great Wilderness: Human Impact on the Deep Sea

Synergies among anthropogenic impacts on deep-sea habitats. The lines link impacts that, when found together, have a synergistic effect on habitats or faunal communities. The lines are color coded showing the direction of the synergy. LLRW=low-level radioactive waste; CFCs=chlorofluorocarbons; PAHs= polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.Credit: Ramirez-Llodra E, et al. PLoS ONE.DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0022588 (Image amplify’d from Deep Blue Home)

A new study is out on the human impact on the deep sea.  Not only is this an important contribution, but it is also getting great pick up on the web.  (The basics are covered here on our webpage.)

The two best posts so far can be found at Nature and at Julia Whitty’s Deep Blue Home.  Nature highlights the finding that conservation lags far behind exploitation activities and the science.  Quoting the report:
"One of the main problems that continue to cause concern is that the fastest movers in the deep sea are those who wish to use it as a service provider. Lagging behind somewhat are the scientists, managers and legislators."
Meanwhile, Julia Whitty brings the story home with her seemingly unlimited collection of amazing ocean photos.  Check them out here.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Ecosystem Impacts of Deep-sea Fishing

In many fisheries, you hear a lot of talk about the ecosystem impacts of fishing.  This includes the collateral damage of bycatch.  And it includes ‘trophic cascades’, where by fishing down one species, there is a cascading impact on the food chain.  Perhaps the most famous example of this is the impact of the collapse of Northwest Atlantic cod stocks.

That means the true costs of fishing are far greater than the costs of operations and marketing, and that it is very likely that the consuming public is being ‘over served’ on certain fish species.   

The deep sea is full of delicate life, such as this assemblage of anemones, brittle stars, and corals. Credit: Sönke Johnsen.  
In the case of deep-sea fisheries, especially those using bottom trawl gears, we find significant ecosystem impacts.  Consider this:

Bottom trawl gear destroys important habitat that sustain the ecosystem. The destructive gear used to catch an estimated 80% of deep-sea species on the high seas leaves coral gardens and sponge beds devastated.  These habitats provide many important ecosystem services to other species, including those targeted by deep-sea fishing operations.  For instance, off the coast of British Columbia, a study found that trawled areas had 13 times less coral and attracted few rockfish, an important target species.

Deep-sea fishing frequently yields large amounts of bycatchFor instance, one study found that between 1995 and 1997, an average of 48.5 percent of French deepwater fish catches in the Northeast Atlantic were discarded as undesirable.  More recently, ICES reported that bycatch accounts for about 30 percent of catch in weight and 50 percent in number for French fleets targeting roundnose grenadier in the Northeast Atlantic. 

It is also clear that the bycatch of deep-sea species is far more ecologically damaging than the bycatch of shallow water species.  Most deep-sea fish cannot survive the changes in pressure as they are brought up from the depths, so fish are discarded dead.  And deep-sea fish are adapted to conditions of low turbulence and their skin is not covered by mucus, so there is also high mortality among fish that escape through trawl meshes.

And lastly, the impacts of deep-sea fishing cascade down the food chain and into the deeper oceanWhen one species’ population collapses, studies suggest that others may fall with them.  In the case of hagfish, data shows that when commercial fishers went after some hagfish populations, the stock of other commercial species plummeted.  It is known that by consuming the dead and decaying carcasses that have fallen to the benthic zone, hagfishes create a rich environment for other species including codfish, haddock, and flounder.

A recent study found that deep-sea trawling off the coast of Ireland is likely to have caused a 70 percent decline in the abundance of deep-sea species up to a depth of 1,500 meters since 1977.  Just as troubling, declines in fish abundance were observed as far down as 2,500 meters, far below the reach of the trawl nets.

Ultimately, we find that the true costs of deep-sea fishing are far greater than what appear on company balance sheets.  It is time we protect the deep-sea and see that short-term commercial interests do not trump those of the rest of the world.

  •  V. Allain, A. Biseau, and B. Kergoat. 2003. Preliminary estimates of French deepwater fishery discards in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean. Fisheries Research 60(1) : 185-192.
  •  ICES. 2010. Widely Distributed and Migratory Stocks. Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, Book 9. Available here.
  • Matthew Gianni (2004). High Seas Bottom Trawl Fisheries and their Impacts on the Biodiversity of Vulnerable Deep-Sea Ecosystems: Options for International Action. Executive Summary. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.  Available here.
  • Alexis Bensch, Matthew Gianni, Dominique Gréboval, Jessica Sanders, and Antonia Hjort. 2008. Worldwide review of bottom fisheries in the high seas. Technical Paper No. 522. Food and Agriculture Organization. Rome
  • P.A. Large, C. Hammer, O.A. Bergstad, J.D.M. Gordon, P. Lorance. 2003. Deep-water fisheries of the Northeast Atlantic: II assessment and management approaches. Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Science. Vol. 31: 151-163.
  •  C.M. Roberts. 2002. Deep impact: the rising toll of fishing in the deep sea. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 17(5), 242-245.
  • D. M. Bailey, M.A. Collins, J.D.M. Gordon, A.F. Zuur, and I.G. Priede. 2009. Long-term changes in deep-water fish populations in the northeast Atlantic: a deeper reaching effect of fisheries? Proceeding of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, 275: 1965-1969.
  • Landon Knapp, Michael M. Mincarone, Heather Harwell, Beth Polidoro, Jonnell Sanciangco, and Kent Carpenter (2011). “Conservation status of the world’s hagfish species and the loss of phylogenetic diversity and ecosystem function.” Aquatic Conservation: Marine And Freshwater Ecosystems. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.1202

Monday, 11 July 2011

Where have all the Orange Roughy gone?

Remember that fish called ‘orange roughy’?  While it was fairly common and popular in the 1980s and 1990s, nowadays it’s almost nowhere to be found in the supermarket.  That’s because…well…we’ve very nearly eaten them all.

As the following graphic shows, the orange roughy arrived with a bang and is now leaving with a long, drawn-out aquatic whimper.  The first sizeable catches were recorded in 1979.  A decade later the world catch peaked at a massive 91,000 tons.  And then, just as quickly, catches plummeted and now they linger around 13,000 tons a year. 

Source: FAO Fish Stat, 1950-2009 Capture Production. 
CLICK HERE for an interactive version.

The problem is that the orange roughy is a deep-sea species that cannot sustain the level of exploitation that our technology and policies have made possible.  It simply reproduces too slowly.  Orange roughy typically don’t start breeding until they’re 30 years old and can live up to 150 years. So catching orange roughy is much more like mining than fishing.  In effect, it’s more like a non-renewable resource!

Some countries and regional fisheries management organizations have passed measures to protect the orange roughy.  In Australia, orange roughy was listed as a threatened species in 2006.  Unfortunately, these measures have tended to be implemented once the population has been reduced to low levels and nearing ‘commercially extinction’ – that is, so rare that fishing it is no longer profitable.

What about the remaining orange roughy fisheries?   

Nearly 100% of the global roughy catch now comes from the Southwest Pacific, mostly caught by New Zealand.  Though some areas have been closed to orange roughy fishing and catch limits and other measures have been implemented, the 2002 - 2006 average catches on the high seas exceeded the estimates of long-term sustainable yields.  Catches continue to decline, and the future is grim as the fisheries have adopted a pattern of ‘serial depletion’, where fishing operations move from one area to another as local stocks crash. Some fisheries are now as low as 3 percent their unfished size.

And then, of course, is the problem of bottom trawling

While New Zealand has closed some areas to bottom trawling, other areas are still open to bottom trawling with virtually no controls. That is contrary to United Nations resolutions adopted in 2006 and 2009, which require specific actions to be taken BEFORE proceeding to fish, including:

  • assessing the ocean floor for potential damage to vulnerable marine ecosystems from bottom trawling,
  • putting into place measures to protect them, 
  • closing areas as necessary, and
  • ‘moving on’ or stopping fishing when vulnerable ecosystems like coral and sponges are encountered.

The New Zealand fishing fleets aren’t required to do any of those things in fully one third of the fishing grounds – the most heavily fished areas.  Unless changes are made and paper commitments become action, it looks like just a matter of time before orange roughy disappear completely from our dinner plates, our supermarkets shelves, and even their own habitat among the ancient corals and sponges of the deep sea floor.

  • A. Penney. (2010, June). Overview of Best Available Scientific Information on Orange Roughy Sustainable Catch Limits in the SPRFMO Area. New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries.
  • C. Wallace and B. Weeber. (2003). The Devil and the Deep Sea – Economics, Institutions, and Incentives: The Theory and the New Zealand Quota Management Experience in the Deep Sea. Deep Sea 2003: Conference on the Governance and Management of Deep-sea Fisheries. Part 1: Conference Report.  1-5 December 2003. Queenstown, New Zealand. Available here.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Roundnose Grenadier Visits the United Nations

Last week, the Roundnose Grenadier visited the United Nations, where delegates met for the Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (ICP). Roundnose had a little trouble getting in the UN, but luckily he made some friends outside who could help guide him. 

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Dangers of Deep Sea Bottom Trawling

Deep-sea bottom trawling is one of the main reasons the coalition came together.  It is the most common type of deep sea fishing - an estimated 80% of the high seas deep-sea catch is taken through bottom trawling.  

And deep-sea bottom trawling is very bad for the marine environment.  It’s so destructive that over 1,000 scientists from around the world signed a petition to ban it back in 2004.

Why is deep-sea bottom trawling so destructive?    Two reasons.

First, you have the gear.  Huge nets with weighted rollers and heavy doors are dragged across the sea floor.  This method grinds away the bottom habitat and indiscriminately catches whatever falls in or leaves it crushed in its wake.   To draw a better picture, one company markets what it calls 'Canyonbusters' - trawl doors that weigh up to five tons each!

Second, deep-sea life is tremendously fragile.  Because of the extreme conditions, ecosystem productivity is very low.  This means that a deep-sea ecosystem will take decades to centuries to recover even from a single trawl sweep. 

Here’s the deep sea before and after the pass of a bottom trawl net:

Groupers were abundant on deep-sea Oculina coral reefs off Florida's Atlantic Coast before trawling began.
Legal and illegal trawling has nearly eliminated the corals and large fishes in this ecosystem.
Want to know more?  Here’s a great video put together by Greenpeace, one of our coalition members.


Matthew Gianni (2004). High Seas Bottom Trawl Fisheries and their Impacts on the Biodiversity of Vulnerable Deep-Sea Ecosystems: Options for International Action. Executive Summary. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.  Available here.

(Images: Deep-sea coral reefs off Florida's Atlantic coast, before and after trawling, Credit: Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Not All High Seas MPAs Are Created Equal

A major goal of the marine conservation community is to see that more marine protected areas (MPAs) are established because they have been found to be highly effective to protect ocean ecosystems.  The international community has even gone so far as to include a goal under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to establish MPAs in 10% of the world’s marine areas by 2020. 

That’s a huge amount of ocean to be protected – 36 million square kilometers.  Unfortunately, the world is not on-track to meet the 2020 goal.  Only 1.31% of the world ocean is covered by MPAs and few are on the high seas because of the legal complexities.

Now we are learning that some high seas MPAs are not very effective.  According to Jeff Ardron, Director of the High Seas Program at the Marine Conservation Institute (MCI) some MPAs have been developed according to science, but other MPAs have been created less systematically—sometimes with the intention of not protecting the most vulnerable areas!  Jeff and his colleagues at MCI are presently studying these inconsistencies in high seas MPAs around the world. 

Watch the video below for Jeff’s take on the problem:

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

This Week: The United Nations ICP Meeting

According to a 2008 analysis published in Science, over 40% of the world's oceans are heavily affected by human activities and few if any areas remain untouched.

The DSCC is back at the United Nations headquarters to advocate for much needed deep-sea conservation measures.  This week marks the 12th meeting of the ‘United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea’.  In UN-speak, the annual meeting referred to as ‘UNICPOLOS’ or ‘ICP’.

So why is ICP important?  Well, it’s the principle annual meeting where the UN General Assembly a) reviews developments in ocean affairs, and b) identifies areas where international coordination and cooperation could be improved.  An important element of this meeting is the Report of the Secretary-General that is presented and considered by the General Assembly. (The report is good reading for anyone interested in the latest updates on international marine policy.)

ICP takes on a particular theme each year, and this year that theme is the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20), possibly the most influential global environment conference this decade.  The Rio+20 meeting has the potential to bring all 192 member states of the UN together to take decisions how we can sustain the well-being of our planet and ourselves.  The original Rio Earth Summit (or UN Conference on Environment and Development) resulted in (among other things): the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The challenge, however, is that the focus of Rio+20 has not yet been decided.  As BBC correspondent Richard Black writes, it is a ‘big summit’ in search of a ‘big idea’.  The DSCC and the rest of the ocean community believe that big idea should be the oceans. 

According to the preliminary findings of a major new report, the global ocean is "at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history" as a result of overfishing, pollution, and climate change.  International waters – which cover 45% of the planet – are essentially open for managed exploitation.  The main exception is international fisheries.  They are partially managed in some areas of the world, but overall evaluations show them to be failing in their conservation mandates.

The DSCC believes that the time has come for the world to tackle the serious and long-running threats to the marine environment.  This week we will be looking to the ICP to ensure that the oceans are a high priority at next year’s summit.  We will also continue to push our UN goals specific to deep-sea conservation this year.

(Image: A Global Map of Human Impacts to Marine Ecosystems, Credit: National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.)

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Fish Can Dance!

While on his way to the United Nations, our Roundnose Grenadier stopped in at a 'splash' mob held in honor of World Oceans Day at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Roundnose was happy to see his deep-sea friend, Orange Roughy there. Roughy is tired of the deep sea bottom trawlers messing up her home too so she agreed to help Roundnose do what they can to put a stop to them!

Who knew Roundnose and Roughy could boogie down with the best of them?! Look out Dancing with the Stars, here come your next champions!


Thursday, 9 June 2011

Interview with an Expert: Susanna Fuller on the Implementation of the UN Resolutions

The main challenge to deep-sea conservation on the high seas is the fact that a handful of deep-sea fishing countries is not following the rules. Recently, this fact was further explored by the DSCC in the preliminary findings from its third comprehensive review of the implementation of UN General Assembly resolutions calling for protection of the deep sea. (The full report is forthcoming.)

Recently, the DSCC was able to discuss this problem with Susanna Fuller, the Marine Conservation Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Among the topics discussed are:
  • Partial implementation of UN resolutions by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) [0:31]
  • The behavior of countries' fleets on the high seas and, in particular, their inconsistency in implementing their obligations across different ocean regions [2:52]
  • Preparing for the UN's review of the implementation of its resolutions in September this year [4:11]

    Wednesday, 8 June 2011

    Deep-Sea Fishing Countries Fail to Implement United Nations Agreements

    The DSCC presented its preliminary findings at a side event during the UN's BBNJ working group meeting on June 2, 2011.
    Last week at the BBNJ meeting the DSCC reported the preliminary findings from its third comprehensive review of the implementation of UN General Assembly resolutions calling for protection of the deep sea.  

    The results? Failure to implement the resolutions is leaving the majority of deep-sea biodiversity on the high seas threatened by destructive fishing.  (You may recall that we've discussed the relevant UN resolutions here.)

    The main findings from this report are:
    • Most deep-sea fisheries have been heavily depleted.
    • Nearly all regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) and States have fallen so far short of the requirements as to warrant immediate closure of their deep-sea fisheries on the high seas (the only exception is in the Antarctic or CCAMLR region).
    • Many vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) remain open with few or no constraints.
    • There has been a general reluctance to close areas where most bottom fishing currently takes place, or has taken place in recent years.
    • Flag states are selectively implementing the resolutions, obeying them in some ocean regions and ignoring them elsewhere.
    • Failure to effectively implement the resolutions risks undermining the authority and efficacy of the UN General Assembly. 
    • Other nations must declare that any fish caught in contravention of the resolutions should be considered illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU).

    The full report will be released in June.

    *Note: 'BBNJ’ is UN-speak for the ‘The Ad Hoc open-ended informal working group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine Biodiversity Beyond areas of National Jurisdiction

    Monday, 6 June 2011

    Speaking for the Deep Sea at the United Nations

    Editor's Note: This post is written by guest blogger Matthew Gianni, co-founder and Policy Advisor of the DSCC.  Matt has over twenty years' experience working in international ocean conservation and has actively participated in fisheries and oceans related negotiations at the UN General Assembly, the UN FAO, Conferences of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and elsewhere. 

    By Matthew Gianni

    Since its beginning in 2004, the DSCC’s objective has been to secure permanent protection for vulnerable deep‐sea ecosystems and species from deep-sea fishing on the high seas. We started off at the United Nations because the UN is the world’s highest political authority when it comes to protecting international waters. Some of us ‘fossils’ working with the DSCC go back a lot further than that, to the early 1990s when the UN General Assembly adopted a moratorium on high seas driftnet fishing and then, as a result of the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, negotiated a new international treaty for high seas fisheries. But that’s a story for another day…

    Since 2004, we’ve had quite a bit of success. Our work and the efforts of concerned scientists and a number of governments – amongst the earliest supporters were Costa Rica and Palau - resulted in the General Assembly adopting a series of resolutions calling for urgent action to protect deep-sea ecosystems from destructive fishing practices. We were instrumental in the unanimous adoption of UN General Assembly resolution 61/105 in December 2006 which committed high seas fishing nations to managing deep-sea fisheries responsibly by the end of 2008 or else stop fishing. And in 2009, our work led to the adoption of UN General Assembly resolution 64/72, which reaffirmed and strengthened the 2006 resolution, again calling for countries (so-called “flag States”) to ensure that their vessels do not bottom fish on the high seas if the terms of the resolution had not been met.

    And what are the terms of the agreement by which deep-sea fishing can take place as far as the UN is concerned? Well, pretty straightforward

    First, if a country wants to deep-sea fish on the high seas (or, more to the point – allow its “flagged” vessels to deep-sea fish on the high seas) it has to first conduct an environmental impact assessment to find out what’s down there in the area it intends to fish and what impact the fishing is likely to have. If the impact would be “adverse” and there is no way to manage the fishing to prevent “significant adverse” impacts - then the country is not supposed to allow the fishing to occur.

    Secondly, countries agreed to close areas of the high seas to bottom fishing where vulnerable species and ecosystems are known or likely to occur, unless fishing in the areas can be managed to prevent damage to such species and ecosystems. Note the use of the term “likely”. This is important because the reality is that very little of the deep-sea has actually been studied. So, areas need to be closed to fishing where it is likely that these ecosystems occur.

    Of course, we would have preferred an even more precautionary approach but there are ways – using biogeographical information and predictive modeling for example – of getting a pretty good idea where say cold-water coral reefs, sponge beds, tripod fish or xenophyophores are likely or at least might occur.

    Finally, high seas fishing countries committed to ensuring that deep-sea fishing would be sustainable; that is, not deplete the species targeted in the fisheries for their commercial value not those that are caught incidentally as bycatch. Unfortunately this is a serious problem in deep-sea fisheries, both on the high seas as well as in national waters. Most deep-sea fish are so-called low productivity species. They grow slowly, don’t reach sexual maturity until their teens or twenties in some cases, and often live to a ripe old age – a roundnose grenadier or an orange roughy can live to 80 and 150 years respectively.

    Fisheries for deep-sea species are often referred to as ‘serial depletion’ fisheries because vessels and fleets move from one concentration or aggregation to the next, fishing them out and then moving on to find more. The deep-sea is a big place but life there happens in the slow lane and it is easy, in fact generally a lot easier than in shallower coastal waters, to deplete a species of fish in the deep-sea. Once depleted it may take the species a long time to recover.

    Unfortunately, vulnerable deep-sea marine life on the high seas is still largely unprotected. The problem, however, is not the UN resolutions. Rather, it’s the implementation.

    We did a review of what countries have and have not done in 2009 and again in 2010. As the DSCC demonstrated, in some cases there have been some real protections agreed to or adoted by regional fisheries treaty organizations. Bottom trawl fishing has been banned around Antarctica but, in many high seas areas the Implementation of the UN General Assembly resolutions has been patchy and poor. For example, no environmental impact assessments have been done for any of the high seas, deep-sea fisheries in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

    This year we’re preparing another report for release. Yet another report you say? But why?

    Well, getting regulations in place on the high seas to protect the deep-sea is a work in progress although progress has been slow, excruciatingly slow in some areas… more on this in future blogs. In the meantime, most governments simply don’t know what has been done or not been done – only a relative handful of nations have vessels deep-sea bottom fishing on the high seas according to a recent FAO report – and most of the countries at the UN General Assembly with an interest in this issue look to the DSCC, amongst others, for unbiased information on what has been done.

    Which brings us to the UN. The DSCC has already this year advocated for strong deep-sea conservation measures the BBNJ working group meeting, and we will continue our work at the upcoming UNICPOLOS meeting and a very important review running September through December. This review will focus specifically on what states have done to implement the UN resolutions and how the international community might improve implementation.

    All in all, it will be a busy year for us at the UN. We very much hope that our early success will continue!

    (Image: Author, Matthew Gianni; Credit: iisd reporting services)