CCAMLR database of information on VMEs in areas beyond national jurisdiction
Vulnerable marine ecosystems
Vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) are generally defined as assemblages of marine benthic organisms which are susceptible to anthropogenic disturbance, especially that arising from the impact of fishing gear used in bottom fishing. In many cases, the slow growth rates and fragility of the species associated with such ecosystems (i.e. VME taxa) make the organisms particularly vulnerable to adverse impacts of bottom fishing. The vulnerability of these taxa falls along a continuum, and designating broad taxonomic groups as being vulnerable may inevitably exclude some species that are potentially vulnerable to disturbance, and include some species that are less vulnerable. VMEs are typically found in deep-sea regions, and may be associated with seamounts, hydrothermal vents, deep-sea trenches and submarine canyons, as well as oceanic ridges.
CCAMLR VME Registry
The CCAMLR VME Registry (52.62 KB) records the locations and characteristics of VMEs and associated areas in the Convention Area which are notified under Conservation Measure 22-06 and Conservation Measure 22-07. Some of the information provided in this registry is displayed on the Online GIS. This registry is a requirement of conservation measure (CM) 22-06, and contributes to the global database of information on VMEs in areas beyond national jurisdiction established under the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 61/105.
UNGA Resolution 61/105
UNGA Resolution 61/105 addresses global concern about adverse impacts of bottom fishing on marine ecosystems in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This resolution calls upon regional fisheries management organisations and arrangements to close areas to bottom fisheries until appropriate measures have been put in place to prevent significant adverse impacts on VMEs. Resolution 61/105 was agreed in 2006 and urged organisations and arrangements 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 by the end of 2008.
CCAMLR regulation on bottom fishing
CCAMLR has adopted a suite of Conservation measures that restrict the extent of bottom fishing by closing areas to directed fishing as well as measures that have been specifically introduced to protect benthic communities including VMEs and potential VMEs in areas beyond national jurisdiction (i.e. high seas):
- 22-04 (since 2006)
- 22-05 (since 2006)
- 22-06 (since 2007)
- 22-07 (since 2008)
- 22-08 (since 2009)
- 22-09 (since 2011)
- 32-02 (some species and areas since 1985)
- 41-01 to 41-11 (since 1996)
Bottom fishing is currently permitted by CCAMLR in the high seas of its Convention Area using bottom-set longlines to target toothfish (predominantly Dissostichus mawsoni, and to a lesser extent Dissostichus eleginoides). The use of pots (traps) for targeting toothfish in these areas is also permitted and this gear is infrequently used. There are seven high-seas exploratory fisheries targeting toothfish in the Convention Area at depths of 600–1800 m (refer Toothfish fisheries).
Encounters with VMEs
Encounters with VMEs in the high seas of the Convention Area are notified under CM 22-06. Notifications are reviewed by the Scientific Committee and its Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management, and agreed instances of VMEs are recorded in the CCAMLR VME Registry (52.62 KB). So far, most of the known VMEs occur in Subareas 48.1 and 48.2 (South Atlantic Ocean) which are closed to bottom fishing, and those VMEs are afforded general protection under Conservation Measure 32-02. VMEs which occur in areas where bottom fishing is permitted are afforded special protection under Conservation Measure 22-09.
Encounters with potential VMEs
Encounters with potential VMEs during the course of bottom fishing in the high seas of the Convention Area are notified under CM 22-07. Fishing vessels are required to monitor and report the incidental take of VME-indicator taxa (refer VME Taxa Classification Guide (983.52 KB)).
While longlines and pots are not designed to sample benthic organisms, the incidental take of VME-indicator taxa while bottom fishing provides information which may be used for mapping the distribution of VMEs and associated areas. Bottom fishing also has the potential to damage VMEs even in the absence of detecting VME-indicator taxa since the absence of such taxa in the catch may not necessarily represent the absence of a VME in the area being fished. Managing the potential impact of bottom fishing on VMEs is further complicated by the difficulty to define the point at which adverse impacts become ‘significant’, either as one-off events or as cumulative effects. 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 protocol for monitoring and reporting the incidental take of VME-indicator taxa is described in CM 22-07. 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.