Concern for high seas biodiversity and the sustainability of
deep sea fisheries has been growing in recent years as scientists
and conservationists have begun to learn more about vulnerable deep
sea environments. Recent scientific exploration of seamounts and
cold water coral reefs indicate that they can be hotspots of marine
biodiversity. As many as fifty percent of the species observed
during recent seamount cruises have been new to science,
representing unique species of which little is known. Deep-sea
species such as corals and sponges typically are slow-growing and
long-lived, which makes them particularly sensitive to disturbance.
Fish inhabiting these deep sea ecosystems can live for up to 150
years and sometimes reach reproductive maturity at 30 years of age,
characteristics making them especially vulnerable to overfishing. A
WWF report released last week concluded that overfishing of deep
sea Orange Roughy has led to severe stock declines all around the
world, accompanied by dramatic impacts on deep sea ecosystems.
Seabed trawling is the primary threat to deep sea environments,
due to the destructive nature of the technique. The nets completely
destroy bottom habitats like cold water coral reefs - some of which
are thousands of years old - in a single trawl. A preliminary study
commissioned by IUCN, NRDC, WWF, and Conservation International has
found that high seas bottom trawling is limited to a small number
of vessels and countries and the amount and value of the catch is
less than 1% of global marine capture fisheries production.
Moreover, the assessment found that bottom trawling on the high
seas is almost completely unregulated. Only a handful of
international Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs)
have authority to regulate bottom fishing, and few if any have
restricted the practice to protect sensitive ecosystems.
Earlier this year at both the Tenth Deep-Sea Biology Symposium
in Coos Bay, Oregon in August, and the Second International
Symposium on Deep Sea Corals in Erlangen, Germany in September,
more than 100 scientists signed a Statement of Concern to the
United Nations General Assembly regarding the risks to seamounts,
cold-water corals and other vulnerable ecosystems of the deep sea.
Among other recommendations, they urged the UN General Assembly to
adopt an immediate moratorium on bottom trawl fishing on the high
"Seamounts, deep sea corals and other deep ocean features
represent a treasure trove of biodiversity that belongs to all
nations," said Lisa Speer, Senior Policy Analyst with the New York
based Natural Resources Defense Council. "International action to
protect them from the devastating impacts of bottom trawling is
"Bottom trawling for orange roughy on seamounts around the world
has decimated Orange Roughy populations," said Simon Cripps,
director of WWF's Endangered Seas Programme. "If we don't take
immediate measures to regulate and better manage the fisheries,
Orange roughy will become commercially extinct."
"The fact that bottom trawl fisheries on the high seas are
largely unregulated represents an important gap in the governance
of the world's oceans, said Kristina Gjerde, high seas policy
advisor to IUCN's Global Marine Programme." A moratorium on high
seas bottom trawling to protect seamounts and other vulnerable
habitats would provide time to develop an enforceable legal
"It appears that high seas bottom trawl fishing constitutes at
present only about 0.2 percent of global marine fisheries capture
production, and approximately 0.5% of the estimated value of the
global marine fish catch in 2001" said Matthew Gianni, independent
consultant and author of the WWF, NRDC, IUCN and CI-commissioned
report on High Seas Bottom Fisheries. "A moratorium on high seas
bottom trawling would not have a widespread economic impact nor
significantly affect fish supplies, prices or food security."
"The deep sea is rapidly being plundered," said, Carmen Gravatt.
Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace in New Zealand. "The shift towards
deep sea fish is only another attempt to temporarily escape the
global depletion of fish stocks. The last unknown wilderness should
not be sacrificed for short term economic profit."
Notes: opies of the report: "High Seas Bottom Fisheries and their Impact on the Biodiversity of Vulnerable Deep Sea Ecosystems: Preliminary Findings" by Matthew Gianni is available at www.iucn.org/marine/themes. Further information on the issue can be found at www.panda.org; www.nrdc.org; and www.greenpeace.org.Copies of the WWF Report, Managing Risk and Uncertainty in Deep Sea Fisheries: lessons from Orange Roughy can be downloaded at http://www.panda.org./downloads/marine/OrangeR0.pdf.