Renaca, 4th May 2007. Up to a quarter of the world's high seas are to be protected from bottom trawling, following a landmark agreement by nations fishing in the South Pacific. Similar action is urgently needed in the N.E. Atlantic.

Renaca, 4th May 2007. Up to a quarter of the world's high seas are to be protected from bottom trawling, following a landmark agreement by nations fishing in the South Pacific. Similar action is urgently needed in the N.E. Atlantic.

The South Pacific high seas (areas beyond national jurisdiction) contain the last and largest pristine deep-sea marine environment on earth. Following negotiations around the establishment of a regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) for the area, which concluded today, governments, including the EU, have agreed to put a stop to the destruction caused by bottom trawl fishing on the high seas.

The agreement reached in the coastal town of Renaca in Chile will come into force on September 30th. It will close high seas areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems are known to exist or likely to occur, unless a prior assessment is undertaken and highly precautionary protective measures are implemented. This is in-line with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution on high seas bottom trawling agreed in 2006. It is the first time that the burden of proof has been reversed and that fisheries are only allowed when they are shown not to be destructive.

This is a major step forward in the protection of biodiversity on the high seas. The countries concerned have heeded the UNGA resolution and done what was required to protect vulnerable species and habitats in the South Pacific. Now it’s time for the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission to do the same in the North East Atlantic.

Additional measures agreed include vessel locator monitoring systems and observers on every bottom trawling vessel. Vessels will need to move at least five nautical miles away from any site where they encounter vulnerable marine ecosystems (i.e., if they bring up deep-water corals in their nets). Such areas include cold water corals and sponge fields. These occur predominantly around the many seamounts in the area and are the locations specifically targeted by fishing vessels.

The measures agreed today will remain in force until the formal establishment of the South Pacific RFMO in several years time. They cover the high seas of the whole of the South Pacific Ocean from the equator to the Southern Ocean, stretching from Chile to Australia.

New Zealand, the nation responsible for some 90% of the high seas bottom trawling in the area, was one of the leading countries in the negotiations, even though they recognised that the agreed measures may have the effect of putting an end to high seas bottom trawling. Only the Russian Federation stated its opposition to the measures but, as of this year, has no bottom trawl vessels operating in the region. All other countries made a commitment to abide by the agreement which the meeting formally adopted.

Text of the South Pacific interim RFMO agreement (4/5/07).
The UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A/61/105 by consensus on the 8th December 2006. Paragraphs 80-91 of the Resolution establish the international agreement for action on high seas bottom fishing.
Seas At Risk is a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), a group of more than 50 environmental and conservation organisations from around the world that are campaigning for a UN General Assembly moratorium on high-seas bottom trawling.
Schematic showing how high seas bottom trawling works (image courtesy of the BBC).

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