Identified adverse impacts and threats to VMEs (including seamounts, hydrothermal vents, cold water corals and sponge fields) resulted in a call for global action to regulate bottom fishing in the high seas. Responding to this call, CCAMLR developed methods for identifying VMEs and encounter protocols for fishing vessels. A range of Conservation measures have been put in place by CCAMLR to address the protection of VMEs.
The adverse impacts of bottom fishing on marine ecosystems is widely recognised and is an issue that occurs in domestic fisheries and, increasingly, in fisheries that operate in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The global concern about the adverse effects of bottom fisheries has placed the issue on the agenda of the United Nations Open-Ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS).
In turn, many UNICPOLOS recommendations have been endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in a series of resolutions aimed at addressing the impacts of bottom fishing activities. In particular, UNGA Resolution 61/105 calls upon Regional Fisheries Management Organisations or Arrangements (RFMO/As) to close areas to bottom fisheries until appropriate measures have been put in place to prevent significant adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs).
The UNGA highlighted examples of VMEs being benthic ecosystems associated with seamounts, hydrothermal vents, deep-sea trenches and submarine canyons, as well as oceanic ridges. In many cases, the slow growth rates of the taxa associated with such ecosystems makes them particularly vulnerable to adverse impacts from fishing gear. Importantly, therefore, UNGA Resolution 61/105 paragraph 83 called upon "RFMO/As with the competence to regulate bottom fisheries to adopt and implement measures, in accordance with the precautionary approach, ecosystem approaches and international law, for their respective regulatory areas as a matter of priority, and not later than 31 December 2008."
Fisheries Management and Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems in the Antarctic
Compared to many global ocean areas where bottom fishing occurs, the Southern Ocean is characterised by extremely limited data on both the prevailing bottom topography and associated benthic marine ecosystems. This is exemplified by the proportion of new species discovered by recent focused research efforts to study the marine benthic fauna of the region. Furthermore, in the Antarctic, where growth rates of benthic taxa are typically slower than in more temperate regions, the impacts of fishing gear on vulnerable taxa may be magnified because of the much longer time taken to recover.
CCAMLR has adopted a suite of measures (see Table 1) that restrict the distribution of bottom fisheries by closing areas to fishing, as well as those measures that have been specifically introduced to protect benthic communities. For example, finfish fishing is prohibited around the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Orkney Islands to protect finfish stocks that were depleted prior to the establishment of CCAMLR, although, pot fishing for crabs is permitted following a scientific research program.
Bottom trawling in all high seas areas within the Convention Area has been prohibited along with a complete prohibition on the use of gillnets. The only current CCAMLR high-seas fisheries are pelagic trawling for krill, demersal longlines, and pots for crabs and finfish. For the latter gears, in order to protect shelf-based benthic systems, bottom fishing is prohibited in water shallower than 550 m around the entire Antarctic continent.
Table 1 - References to the paragraphs in the reports of CCAMLR meetings and related conservation measures that show the development of the discussion and actions taken by CCAMLR arising from UNGA Resolution 61/105. (n) = new conservation measure, (a) = amended conservation measure.
|WG-Statistics, Assessment and Modelling (SC-CAMLR Annex 6)||4.7–4.19|
|WG-Ecosystem Monitoring and Management (SC-CAMLR Annex 4)||3.21–3.44||5.1–5.14|
|WG-Fish Stock Assessment (SC-CAMLR Annex 4)||14.1–14/50||10.3–10.109||10.1–10.51|
|Standing Committee on Implementation and Compliance (CCAMLR Annex 5)||2.36–2.49|
|Commission||11.27–11.38, 12.18, 12.28||5.9–5.20, 13.40–13.46||5.4–5.30, 13.11–13.12||5.3–5.1, 8.26–8.3.5, 12.17–12.23|
Encounters with potential VMEs
Fishing gear such as longlines and pots are not designed to sample benthic organisms, however, the incidental take of VME-indicator taxa does provide information on the distribution of VMEs. This does also mean that the absence of VME-indicator taxa in the catch may not necessarily represent the absence of a VME in the area being fished. CCAMLR’s approach has therefore been to balance the acquisition of information on VMEs with the need to implement precautionary measures aimed at avoiding significant adverse impacts to VMEs.
The procedures to be followed by vessels to monitor and report encounters with potential VMEs during the course of bottom fishing are described in CM 22-07. These require fishing vessels to collect and report all catches of a suite of “VME-indicator taxa” that are described in CCAMLR’s VME Taxa Classification Guide (983.52 KB).
The number of VME-indicator units recovered in each line segment of bottom-set longline (or string of pots) is reported to the CCAMLR Secretariat. Line segments with 5 or more VME-indicator units are reported immediately, and VME risk areas are declared within 1 nautical mile of the mid-point of each line segment with 10 or more VME-indicator units. Risk areas are immediately closed to further bottom fishing, and remain closed until reviewed by the Scientific Committee and management actions are determined by the Commission. Scientific research endorsed by the Scientific Committee is allowed in risk areas. VME fine-scale rectangles (0.5° latitude by 1.0° longitude) are also designated in areas where frequent VME-indicator notifications are made.
Reid, K. 2011. Conserving Antarctica from the Bottom Up: Implementing UN General Assembly Resolution 61/105 in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Ocean Yearbook, 25: 131–139.