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)

    A Ray of Hope for the Deep Sea

    Editor’s note: This post is written by guest blogger Duncan Currie, Legal Advisor to the DSCC. Duncan has practiced international law and environmental law for over 25 years and has advised the DSCC on bottom trawling issues since its inception.

    By Duncan Currie

    It’s not every day that we see a ray of sunshine penetrate the deep blue ocean, but you can put a ring around June 3, 2011. That was the day that the so-called BBNJ, more properly known as the Fourth Meeting of the Ad Hoc Informal Working Group to Study Issues Relating to the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction (you can see why it needs an acronym) reached an agreement on recommendations. This sounds very UN-speak and vague, but it is actually very significant.

    BBNJ has for the first time agreed that discussions can go forward on two crucial issues: the possible development of a multilateral agreement under UNCLOS and the sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources. These two issues have been stumbling blocks for the five years that BBNJ has been meeting, and for the first time, agreement has been reached that these are legitimate matters for negotiation.

    What this means for the high seas is that negotiations on long-overdue reform of oceans governance are in sight to allow networks of marine protected areas in the high seas to be established, to require environmental impact assessments of activities that may harm the marine environment, and to put into place a system which lays out who benefits when products such as pharmaceuticals are developed from marine genetic resources taken from the high seas or deep seabed.

    Delegates emerged from the fifth day of open debate and intense closed door negotiations with broad smiles of relief after the breakthrough agreement was reached.

    There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we can allow ourselves to reflect on a ray of hope for the deep seabed and high seas, which is so crucial to life on this planet.

    (Image: The author, Duncan Currie. Credit: iisd reporting services)

    A Strong Outcome at the 4th UN BBNJ Meeting

    Country delegations and NGO representatives congratulate each other on a strong outcome late Friday in New York.
    Last week, the UN BBNJ meeting ended with a surprisingly good result. At the '11th hour', just 20 minutes before the UN interpreters had to finish for the day, a promising compromise was reached.

    One hundred and thirty-one governments advocated for high seas marine protected areas and a strong decision calling for a high seas implementing agreement. The G77 (led by Argentina), the European Union, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and Iceland were all key in bridging the previous divide that had blocked progress. And the few countries in opposition - among them the US, Canada and Norway – eventually reached a compromise on some remaining contentious issues.

    The Environmental Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) points out in its in-depth analysis that the reoccurring message of the meeting was that “the status quo is not an option.” The status quo, of course, is very poor high seas governance.

    We at the DSCC are very pleased as the agreement creates a platform for countries and regional fisheries management bodies to improve high seas conservation and sustainable use. Specifically, the agreement calls for additional work to:
    1. Develop new rules for establishing high seas marine protected areas, which would protect the deep sea, and 
    2. Assess the impacts of activities that may harm marine life (including those that inhabit the deep sea) on the high seas.
    Moreover, the agreement is a culmination of an important compromise on the sharing of the benefits of marine genetic resources beyond national jurisdiction. This issue is of utmost concern to many countries, especially developing countries, that lack the capacity to explore and utilize these resources that thrive in extreme environments, from polar ice to the deep sea to the open ocean. These marine genetic resources can be the source of life-saving drugs, new types of industrial materials and processes, and many other uses.

    The recommendations of the BBNJ working group will now be sent to the UN General Assembly to spur the GA into action.

    Finally, the DSCC was also able to share the summary results of its new review of the implementation of existing UN resolutions to protect the deep sea. More news on this coming soon!

    Friday, 3 June 2011

    Roundnose Making the Rounds at the UN

    Here members of the DSCC pose for a photo with a critically endangered Roundnose Grenadier. (Source: Environmental Negotiations Bulletin
    Today is the final day of the United Nations BBNJ meeting, and the DSCC has been working long hours to ensure that the working group makes strong recommendations to the UN General Assembly.  We hope that these recommendations would push the GA enough to take further action to protect deep-sea biodiversity on the high seas.  The GA will meet in September to review its past resolutions.

    More news to come on the outcome!

    Interview with an Expert: Matt Gianni on the United Nations

    Recently we were able to spend some time with Matt Gianni, the Policy Advisor for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. In the interview that follows, Matt explains what the DSCC is doing at the United Nations, the role for the UN in deep sea conservation, the state of protections today, and what we hope to come out of the BBNJ meeting.

    Thursday, 2 June 2011

    The Roundnose Grenadier, our Mascot for this Critical Year

    Roundnose Grenadier at the United Nations.

    Why did we choose the Roundnose Grenadier over so many other species for our campaign?  The choice was clear for a few reasons.

    The Roundnose is now endangered as a result of overfishing in its home range of the North Atlantic. 

    In fact, the Roundnose Grenadier now qualifies as ‘Critically Endangered’.  The abundance of Roundnose Grenadier in the North Atlantic declined by 99.6% from 1978 to 2003!!! 

    And the causes of this decline are well understood.  The Roundnose Grenadier is typically caught before it fully matures, meaning there simply aren’t any fish left to reproduce.  Commercial Roundnose Grenadier catches are typically comprised of fish ages 5-10 with a peak at 6 years - yet it is estimated that females mature around 12-15 years! 

    Add to this the fact that the Roundnose Grenadier fishing is poorly regulated throughout the North Atlantic, and you’ve got a recipe for extinction!

    The Roundnose Grenadier is caught in trawl nets, which destroy the habitat for any remaining fish (or just about anything else that lives on the seabed).  Further, these trawl nets yield massive and wasteful bycatch. 

    For example, France has reported that bycatch accounts for about 30% of catch in weight and 50% in number for its vessels targeting Roundnose Grenadier in the Northeast Atlantic.  This bycatch is simply dumped back into the ocean, dead or dying.

    And finally, the Roundnose is one special fish!  Among the many cool aspects of the Roundnose are:

    ·         It can thrive in temperatures of 1.6°C and below! For humans hypothermia sets in if our body temperature drops below 35°C.

    ·         To avoid being detected by predators, it can go into stealth mode. It uses the light organ on its belly to mask its silhouette from below and hide in plain sight from predators looking upward for food.

    ·         It can live for up to 80 years, which is a miracle when biological research has shown that it is generally bigger animals that live longer. Roundnose Grenadier grow to one and a half meters in size but share the same life span as humans and outlive both elephants (78> years) and whale sharks (70 years).

    When you add all this up, why wouldn’t we ask the Roundnose to be our mascot?  Clearly, this fish is WORTH SAVING!


    COSEWIC. 2007. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the roughhead grenadier Macrourus berglax in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. At: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/collection_2007/ec/CW69-14-525-2007E.pdf

    Devine, J.A., K.D. Baker and R.L. Haedrich. 2006. Fisheries: deep-sea fishes qualify as endangered. Nature 439, 29. (doi:10.1038/439029a)

    Devine, J.A and Haedrich, R.L. 2008. Population Trends and Status of Two Exploited Northwest Atlantic Grenadiers, Coryphaenoides rupestris and Macrourus berglax. In: Grenadiers of the World Oceans: Biology, Stock Assessment and Fisheries. Orlov, A. and Iwamoto, T. (Eds.) Symposium 63: American Fisheries Society. ISBN: 978-1-934874-00-4

    ICES. Widely Distributed and Migratory Stocks. Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, Book 9. 2010. http://www.ices.dk/products/icesadvice/2010/ICES%20ADVICE%202010%20Book%209.pdf

    Wednesday, 1 June 2011

    Where is Roundnose?

    The "Worth Saving" spokesfish, the Roundnose Grenadier arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 27th, having swum from its home in the deep sea off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Its plight — the decimation of many hundreds of thousands of its family members, complete lack of regulation or management of the grenadier fish stocks and destruction of its habitat by bottom trawling.
    In search of protection and models of sustainability, the Grenadier made its first appearance at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market, the oldest market in North America. After having a few conversations with market goers about the importance of sustainable seafood, sadly, the Grenadier was asked to leave by the Halifax Port Authority (although the individual guards expressed support for the Grenadier's situation).
    Swimming across the Harbour, to the shores of Dartmouth, the Grenadier emerged from the water, beneath the MacDonald Bridge. While gathering its thoughts, and trying to find someone to help — the Bridge Commission sent some commissionaires to ask the Grenadier to move along.

    The Grenadier hasn't received much of a welcome here on the shores of Nova Scotia (which is surprising because one of the tourism tag lines is '100,000 Welcomes' or 'Céad míle fáilte' in Gaelic). So far for the Grenadier, it is 0 for 2.
    Making its way to NAFO, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, the organization responsible for managing fisheries on the high seas in the Northwest Atlantic, again — the Grenadier was met with closed doors. The Roundnose Grenadier high tails it for New York City, where the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction is meeting from May 31-June 3rd, 2011.

    The Deep Sea is WORTH SAVING (A New Campaign and Website)

    This is a big year for the deep sea.  So the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition has created the “Worth Saving” campaign to profile the issues and exert pressure on governments and industry to make the right choices on deep sea conservation.  And along with this campaign, we have created an entirely new website for the DSCC.  

    This week, the BBNJ meeting marks the launch of this campaign and online platform. Our “Worth Saving” message will be shared with policy makers at an event we are hosting at lunch on Thursday June 2nd.  Invitations to the event will be handed out as ‘messages in a bottle’, sending an SOS signal on behalf of the deep sea and its “unlovely” creatures. 

    A poster from the DSCC's new 'Worth Saving' Campaign

    What can you do to get involved?  You can start with the Worth Saving campaign now by downloading and using our banners on your blog or website. 

    And of course, keep an eye out for our most valuable team member - Roundnose Grenadier - as it travels the world in search of deep-sea protections!

    Over the coming months the campaign will really start to evolve and gain momentum. The public will be able to give roundnose grenadiers an online make-over to increase their appeal to politicians - the resulting images can be emailed to named politicians or collected in a gallery to demonstrate growing momentum around calls for action.  (More on this feature soon!)