Seas At Risk and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition welcome today's agreement by the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission to protect deep-sea corals and other sensitive ecosystems from bottom fisheries.

An "extraordinary" meeting of the Commission took place in London this week involving North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) member countries Norway, Iceland, Russia, the Faroe Islands and Greenland and the European Union.

Seas At Risk and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition welcome today's agreement by the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission to protect deep-sea corals and other sensitive ecosystems from bottom fisheries.

An "extraordinary" meeting of the Commission took place in London this week involving North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) member countries Norway, Iceland, Russia, the Faroe Islands and Greenland and the European Union.

The NEAFC agreement is designed to implement for the North East Atlantic a United Nations General Assembly resolution adopted in 2006, which called for urgent action to protect deep-sea corals and other vulnerable ecosystems from the impacts of bottom fishing on the high seas. The General Assembly called on NEAFC and other regional fisheries treaty organisations to fully implement the UN resolution by December 2008.

The NEAFC agreement mandates that all high seas bottom fishing will be subject to impact assessments by the end of 2008, and that fishing areas will be closed or fishing prohibited where damage to corals, sponges and other deep sea species cannot be prevented. NEAFC member countries have agreed to an ambitious work schedule over the next several months to complete the assessments and to identify and agree on areas on the high seas that require protection at the annual meeting of NEAFC in November.

The agreement adopted by NEAFC today is a significant step forward in protecting vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems from the impact of bottom trawling and other deep-sea fishing methods. The real task now for NEAFC is to do the science and establish regulations in November to implement protected areas effectively in line with the UN's 31st December 2008 deadline.

Deep-sea trawlers from Spain, Russia and other nations have been plying the international waters of the North East Atlantic for over 40 years, fishing on seamounts and underwater ridge systems for grenadiers, orange roughy, deep-sea sharks and other long lived species which are highly vulnerable to overexploitation. The agreement, if properly implemented, could serve to provide real protection to deep-sea ecosystems and hopefully will lead to a far more sustainable approach to managing deep-sea fisheries throughout the Northeast Atlantic.

Cold-water corals, sponges and other deep-sea habitat forming species occur throughout the high seas areas of the North East Atlantic where bottom fisheries take place. A report published by the UN Environment Programme in 2004 identified bottom trawling as the most serious threat to deep-sea ecosystems.

NEAFC has closed several high seas areas to bottom fishing over the past four years but the agreement adopted today, modelled on an agreement adopted by the North West Atlantic Fisheries Organisation in May, provides a comprehensive framework for protecting the high seas of the North East Atlantic as a whole from the adverse impacts of bottom fisheries. NEAFC also adopted an agreement to cooperate with the Oslo and Paris Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) which will help further advance the protection of the North East Atlantic from the adverse impacts of unsustainable fishing practices.

Joint DSCC and Seas At Risk Press Release (2/7/08).

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