Deep Sea Conservation

UN General Assembly Process

In 2011 the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) conducted an open review of national and regional actions, in accordance with UNGA resolutions 61/105 and 64/72, to protect deep-sea species and ecosystems beyond national jurisdiction from the harmful impacts of bottom fishing.

The two resolutions, which call for urgent action, were agreed at the United Nations in 2006 and again in 2009 as part of a compromise following global concern over the destructive impacts of bottom fishing on the high seas.  Multiple treaties, legally-binding regimes and guidelines have reinforced this pledge to protect deep-sea biodiversity from high seas bottom trawling and to conserve and manage bottom fisheries on the high seas.  Among these are the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UN Fish Stocks Agreement, UN FAO Compliance Agreement the UN FAO International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas, and most recently the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Assessment of Implementation

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) has assessed compliance with the UNGA resolutions on high seas bottom fishing. This assessment is contained in reports that were released at the 2011 UN Workshop to discuss implementation of paragraphs 80 and 83 to 87 of resolution 61/105 and paragraphs 117 and 119 to 127 of resolution 64/7 on sustainable fisheries.  The assessment found 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.

In 2009 DSCC observed that fishing in breach of the applicable resolutions must be considered illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.  Such fishing qualifies as illegal, because it is in violation of international obligations, including those to protect biodiversity in the marine environment and conserve fish stocks.  It is also unregulated, in the sense that there are no applicable conservation or management measures in place and the fishing is thus inconsistent with State responsibilities for the conservation of living marine resources.  In some cases, such as the high seas bottom fisheries in the Indian Ocean, the fisheries are also unreported.

Recommendations

We urge the General Assembly to call for:

1. The immediate cessation of high seas bottom fishing except where  conservation measures consistent with UNGA resolutions 61/105 and 64/72, and any subsequent UNGA resolutions, are in force and have been effectively and fully implemented;

2. The protection of all VMEs as identified in paragraph 42 of the FAO Guidelines on Deep Sea Fisheries, 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 IUU fishing when it is conducted in contravention of international instruments, including UNGA resolutions 61/105 and 64/72, regional measures, such as UNGA compliant conservation and management measures adopted by regional fisheries management organizations, or UNGA compliant national rules.

The DSCC has written to New Zealand officials over concerns about the implementation of the UNGA resolutions.