Bottom Fishery Impact Assessment Standard Draft April 2009 Contents




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SPRFMO-7-SWG-DW-03



Bottom Fishery Impact Assessment Standard

Draft - April 2009



Contents

1

Bottom Fishery Impact Assessment Standard 1

Draft - April 2009 1

1. Introduction and Rationale 24

Fishing with gears that make contact with the seabed has the potential to significantly impact the abundance and diversity of benthic species (Kaiser 1998, Koslow et al. 2001, Clark and Koslow 2007). The most fragile and vulnerable species are those that form complex biogenic structures which other species use as habitat, food or shelter from predation (Auster 2005). Deepwater habitat-forming species are often rare or endemic to isolated seamounts, creating areas of high biodiversity which are vulnerable to disturbance (Koslow et al. 2001, Richer de Forges et al. 2000, FAO 2008). These structure-forming organisms are typically slow growing and long lived, making them slow to recover and vulnerable to cumulative impacts from fishing (Clark et al. 2006). Benthic ecosystems that include organisms with these characteristics are referred to as ‘vulnerable marine ecosystems’ (VMEs) (UNGA 2007, FAO 2008, Rogers et al. 2008). 24

United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 61/105 (2006) “Calls upon States to take action immediately, individually and through regional fisheries management organizations and arrangements, and consistent with the precautionary approach and ecosystem approaches, to sustainably manage fish stocks and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, including seamounts, hydrothermal vents and cold water corals, from destructive fishing practices, recognizing the immense importance and value of deep sea ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain.” In response to a request by the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) developed International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas (FAO 2008), to assist Flag States to give effect to their obligations under UNGA Resolution 61/105. 24

In response to UNGA Resolution 61/105, the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) adopted interim measures for bottom fisheries in 2007, requiring participants to prepare impact assessments for bottom fishing activities, and requiring the Science Working Group (SWG) to “design a preliminary interim standard for reviewing the benthic impact assessments and develop a process to ensure comments are provided to the submitting Participant and all other Participants” (SPRFMO 2007a, Bottom Fishing Interim Measure 12b). Pending development of a more detailed standard, an interim Benthic Assessment Framework was developed by the SWG and adopted by the participants to the SPRFMO Negotiations in September 2007. 24

A Bottom Fishery Impact Assessment Standard (BFIAS) is required to provide guidance for Participants to prepare impact assessments to “assess, on the basis of the best available scientific information, whether individual bottom fishing activities would have significant adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems, and to ensure that if it is assessed that these activities would have significant adverse impacts, they are managed to prevent such impacts, or not authorized to proceed” (SPRFMO 2007a). 24

This document contains the draft SPRFMO Bottom Fishery Impact Assessment Standard developed in response to that obligation. This standard has been developed using a broad range of currently available information, including data on benthic bycatch from various bottom fisheries, as well as broader general principles developed internationally in response to UNGA Resolution 61/105, particularly the FAO International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas (FAO 2008). 24

2. Purpose of the Standard 25

This Bottom Fishery Impact Assessment Standard (BFIAS) replaces the interim Benthic Assessment Framework adopted by SPRFMO in September 2007. The purpose of this standard is to guide SPRFMO Participants in developing bottom fishery impact assessments, and to provide a standard for the SWG to use when reviewing such assessments. It is intended to constitute the standardised approach to be taken by all participants when preparing risk and impact assessments for high seas bottom fishing activities in the SPRFMO area. 25

The contributing objectives of this BFIAS are to: 25

Establish guidelines for proposing and describing bottom fishing activities to be conducted in the SPRFMO Area. 25

Establish a standard for assessing the potential impacts of those proposed bottom fishing activities on VMEs and long-term sustainability of deep sea fish stocks. 25

Develop an approach for real-time monitoring of fishing impacts to support the invoking of a move-on rule if a benthic bycatch-related trigger is attained. 25

Develop a process to identify and protect VMEs and deep-sea fish stocks at an appropriate scale across the SPRFMO Area. 25

The Bottom Fishery Impact Assessment Standard follows several key principles: 25

The process and definitions adopted under the BFIAS should be consistent with globally accepted best practice conservation measures for the protection of VMEs. 25

Biological diversity present in the ecosystem should be protected, and long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish stocks maintained. 25

Measures taken to avoid impacts on VMEs should be risk-based, quantifiable, monitored and periodically reviewed. 25

Management decisions should be based on the best available information, and revised when this information is improved. 25

Decision makers should consider uncertainty in the information available, and exercise caution appropriate to the level of uncertainty and risk. 25

The absence of, or uncertainty in, any information should not be used as a reason for failing to take adequate measures to achieve the intended outcomes. 25

This standard has been designed to achieve three primary outcomes: 25

i) That areas containing VMEs are protected from significant adverse impacts due to bottom fishing; 25

ii) That sustainability of deep sea stocks is maintained; and 25

iii) That improved data and information on the distribution of vulnerable benthic species in the SPRFMO Area are generated during fishing operations and made available. 25

These outcomes are designed to meet the main objectives articulated in the Scope and Principles of the FAO deep-sea fisheries management guidelines (FAO 2008): 25

i. ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources in the deep seas; and 25

ii. preventing significant adverse impacts on VMEs (FAO 2008) 25

3. Area of Application 26

This standard is intended to be applied to bottom fishery impact assessments for all bottom fishing operations within the SPRFMO Area. While the SPRFMO Area is still under negotiation, for the purposes of the interim measures and this standard, the Area is considered to be the high seas area south of the Equator, north of the CCAMLR Convention area, east of the SIOFA Convention Area and west of the areas of fisheries jurisdictions of South American States (Figure 1). 26

Within regard to bottom fisheries within the Area, SPRFMO is primarily concerned with managing the fishable area of the deep sea, defined for the purposes of this BFIAS as bottom depths between 200 m and 2,000 m depth (Figure 1). This extends slightly beyond the range of current significant fishing (200 m to ~1,500 m) (Clark et al. 2006, MFish 2008) to incorporate deeper areas of experimental fishing, and to ensure that potential risks to deeper areas from current fishing activities are assessed (Bailey et al. 2009). Areas shallower than 200 m occur on continental shelf areas within EEZs of bordering nations and are not included in this definition. Areas deeper than 2,000 m are expected to remain beyond the reach of bottom fishing technology for some time. 26

Within this geographic area and depth range, this BFIAS has been tailored to the specific requirements of the SPRFMO interim measures, and to available information on characteristics of fisheries and habitats in the South Pacific Ocean. As SPRFMO management measures for bottom fisheries are revised, and as information on distribution of VMEs and the impacts of bottom fisheries in the SPRFMO Area improves, this standard should be amended accordingly. 26

4. Definitions 27

Identification and assessment of risks of significant adverse impacts to VMEs requires clear and specific operational definitions of VMEs and of significant adverse impacts (SAIs). UNGA Resolution 61/105 and the SPRFMO interim measures provide some guidance on the characteristics of seabed features and benthic community components which should be included in a definition of VMEs. However, neither instrument provides adequate definitions to serve as the basis for critically evaluating impacts of fisheries on these ecosystems, and neither is specifically tailored to characteristics of benthic ecosystems in the SPRFMO Area. 27

The ‘International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas’ (FAO 2008) have substantially improved and expanded upon the UNGA definitions of VMEs and SAIs and currently provide the most comprehensive international definitions of these terms. Aspects of these guidelines which are relevant to SPRFMO Area fisheries have therefore been directly incorporated into this standard, in the definitions below. 27

4.1 Low Productivity Resources 27

The FAO deep-sea management guidelines (FAO 2008, paragraph 13) recognize that marine living resources exploited by deep-sea fisheries in the high seas often have low productivity, can only sustain low exploitation rates and are slow to recover once depleted. Key biological characteristics of such low productivity species include maturation at relatively old ages; slow growth; long life expectancies; low natural mortality rates; intermittent recruitment of successful year classes; and spawning that may not occur every year (FAO 2008). Species with these characteristics within the SPRFMO Area will be considered to constitute low productivity resources, and need to be managed in accordance with the relevant guidelines and best practices for managing such resources. 27

4.2 Vulnerability and Risk to Marine Ecosystems 27

In support of definitions of VMEs, the FAO guidelines provide separate definitions of vulnerability which need to be taken into account when determining whether specific areas or ecosystems may be vulnerable to particular fishing activities: 27

14. Vulnerability is related to the likelihood that a population, community, or habitat will experience substantial alteration from short-term or chronic disturbance, and the likelihood that it would recover and in what time frame. These are, in turn, related to the characteristics of the ecosystems themselves, especially biological and structural aspects. VME features may be physically or functionally fragile. The most vulnerable ecosystems are those that are both easily disturbed and very slow to recover, or may never recover. 27

15. The vulnerability of populations, communities and habitats must be assessed relative to specific threats. Some features, particularly those that are physically fragile or inherently rare, may be vulnerable to most forms of disturbance, but the vulnerability of some populations, communities and habitats may vary greatly depending on the type of fishing gear used or the kind of disturbance experienced. 27

16. The risks to a marine ecosystem are determined by its vulnerability, the probability of a threat occurring and the mitigation means applied to the threat. 27

(FAO 2008) 28

4.3 Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems 28

Many of the characteristics that make an ecosystem vulnerable are actually attributes of species. Following from the above definitions of vulnerability, the FAO guidelines define a number of characteristics of vulnerable species which should be used as criteria in the definition of vulnerable ecosystems: 28

42. A marine ecosystem should be classified as vulnerable based on the characteristics that it possesses. The following list of characteristics should be used as criteria in the identification of VMEs. 28

i. Uniqueness or rarity – an area or ecosystem that is unique or that contains rare species whose loss could not be compensated for by similar areas or ecosystems. These include: 28

• habitats that contain endemic species; 28

• habitats of rare, threatened or endangered species that occur only in discrete areas; or 28

• nurseries or discrete feeding, breeding, or spawning areas. 28

ii. Functional significance of the habitat – discrete areas or habitats that are necessary for the survival, function, spawning/reproduction or recovery of fish stocks, particular life-history stages (e.g. nursery grounds or rearing areas), or of rare, threatened or endangered marine species. 28

iii. Fragility – an ecosystem that is highly susceptible to degradation by anthropogenic activities. 28

iv. Life-history traits of component species that make recovery difficult – ecosystems that are characterized by populations or assemblages of species with one or more of the following characteristics: 28

• slow growth rates; 28

• late age of maturity; 28

• low or unpredictable recruitment; or 28

• long-lived. 28

v. Structural complexity – an ecosystem that is characterized by complex physical structures created by significant concentrations of biotic and abiotic features. In these ecosystems, ecological processes are usually highly dependent on these structured systems. Further, such ecosystems often have high diversity, which is dependent on the structuring organisms. 28

(FAO 2008) 28

The above characteristics should guide the identification and specific definition of VMEs in the SPRFMO Area. However, to provide operational definitions for use during fishing operations, it is necessary to use the above guidelines to develop lists of specific taxa (orders, families, genera or species) which are considered to contribute to VMEs in the SPRFMO Area itself. To assist with selection of such taxa, the FAO guidelines (Annex 1) go on to provide a list of examples of potentially vulnerable species groups, communities and habitats, as well as features that potentially support them: 28

FAO Guidelines Annex 1. Examples of potentially vulnerable species groups, communities and habitats, as well as features that potentially support them. 28

The following examples of species groups, communities, habitats and features often display characteristics consistent with possible VMEs. Merely detecting the presence of an element itself is not sufficient to identify a VME. That identification should be made on a case-by-case basis through application of relevant provisions of these Guidelines, particularly Sections 3.2 and 5.2. 29

Examples of species groups, communities and habitat forming species that are documented or considered sensitive and potentially vulnerable to DSFs in the high-seas, and which many contribute to forming VMEs: 29

i. certain coldwater corals and hydroids, e.g. reef builders and coral forest including: stony corals (Scleractinia), alcyonaceans and gorgonians (Octocorallia), black corals (Antipatharia) and hydrocorals (Stylasteridae); 29

ii. some types of sponge dominated communities; 29

iii. communities composed of dense emergent fauna where large sessile protozoans (xenophyophores) and invertebrates (e.g. hydroids and bryozoans) form an important structural component of habitat; and 29

iv. seep and vent communities comprised of invertebrate and microbial species found nowhere else (i.e. endemic). 29

Examples of topographical, hydrophysical or geological features, including fragile geological structures, that potentially support the species groups or communities, referred to above: 29

i. submerged edges and slopes (e.g. corals and sponges); 29

ii. summits and flanks of seamounts, guyots, banks, knolls, and hills (e.g. corals, sponges, xenophyphores); 29

iii. canyons and trenches (e.g. burrowed clay outcrops, corals); 29

iv. hydrothermal vents (e.g. microbial communities and endemic invertebrates); and 29

v. cold seeps (e.g. mud volcanoes for microbes, hard substrates for sessile invertebrates). 29

(FAO 2008) 29

4.4 Biologically Important Physical Factors 29

The FAO guidelines note (paragraph 45) that, “where site-specific information is lacking, other information that is relevant to inferring the likely presence of vulnerable populations, communities and habitats should be used”. For much of the SPRFMO Area, data on seabed biodiversity and benthic community composition are not available. Ancillary information on biologically important physical factors will therefore need to be used to predict likelihood and suitability of areas for supporting VMEs. These physical factors should also be used to stratify the evaluation of likelihood of an activity having significant adverse impacts, and to evaluate whether proposed management and mitigation measures will provide adequate protection and prevent significant adverse impacts on VMEs which may occur within each stratum. The most important physical factors, and recommended stratification by these factors, are listed below: 29

Biogeographic Zone: Reflecting oceanographic conditions (water masses) in large ocean areas, such as the Southwest Pacific Ocean. 29

Proximity / Connectivity: Being the distance between underwater topographic features (such as seamounts), and the relationship of seamount direction to current flow. These affect the abilities of fauna to disperse and colonize adjacent seamounts. The range indicating a separate feature has been proposed as 100km - 200km and Clark (2008). 29

Summit Depth / Seabed Depth Range: Depth is a major determinant of species composition, particularly on deep-sea seamount features with high elevation. Elevation above the abyssal plain (which typically lies at ~4000m deep in the South Pacific Ocean) is also a relative measure of seamount size. The following depth strata are recommended for the purposes of evaluating likelihood of impacts and adequacy of protection measures (modified from those recommended by Clark (2008) to divide strata at 2,000m, the current maximum trawlable depth): 30

Seabed Topography: Seabed topography is an indicator of seabed geology, and therefore of substratum suitability for supporting VME species. FAO (2008) specifically recognizes the following as being features that potentially support species, groups or communities which may contribute to forming VMEs: 30

(FAO 2008, Clark 2008, Penney et al. in press) 30

4.5 Significant Adverse Impacts 30

The assessment of impacts of bottom fishing activities on benthic ecosystems consists of two separate and distinct components: i) whether such activities will have adverse impacts on actual VMEs; and ii) whether such impacts will be ‘significant’. The definition of ‘significance’ of impacts is the most difficult of these two components to determine, and there are widely differing views, and relatively little international guidance, on what would constitute a significant impact. The FAO deep-sea guidelines (FAO 2008) attempt to provide some guidance on this: 30

17. Significant adverse impacts are those that compromise ecosystem integrity (i.e. ecosystem structure or function) in a manner that: (i) impairs the ability of affected populations to replace themselves; (ii) degrades the long-term natural productivity of habitats; or (iii) causes, on more than a temporary basis, significant loss of species richness, habitat or community types. Impacts should be evaluated individually, in combination and cumulatively. 30

18. When determining the scale and significance of an impact, the following six factors should be considered: 30

i. the intensity or severity of the impact at the specific site being affected; 31

ii. the spatial extent of the impact relative to the availability of the habitat type affected; 31

iii. the sensitivity/vulnerability of the ecosystem to the impact; 31

iv. the ability of an ecosystem to recover from harm, and the rate of such recovery; 31

v. the extent to which ecosystem functions may be altered by the impact; and 31

vi. the timing and duration of the impact relative to the period in which a species needs the habitat during one or more of its life-history stages. 31

19. Temporary impacts are those that are limited in duration and that allow the particular ecosystem to recover over an acceptable time frame. Such time frames should be decided on a case-by-case basis and should be in the order of 5-20 years, taking into account the specific features of the populations and ecosystems. 31

20. In determining whether an impact is temporary, both the duration and the frequency at which an impact is repeated should be considered. If the interval between the expected disturbance of a habitat is shorter than the recovery time, the impact should be considered more than temporary. In circumstances of limited information, States and RFMO/As should apply the precautionary approach in their determinations regarding the nature and duration of impacts. 31

(FAO 2008) 31

When evaluating the potential significance of adverse impacts of bottom fishing activities in the SPRFMO Area, the above factors should all be considered when determining how to measure significance of any potential impact, and in then evaluating those impacts. However, the above factors are not adequate in themselves to actually measure significance of impacts, and need to be interpreted and used to develop specific measures of significance for each impact. Each bottom fishery impact assessment conducted will need to detail how the above factors were used to develop a definition of ‘significance’ for the purposes of the assessment, and what actual measures of significance were used to measure the impact of the fisheries concerned. 31

The significance of fishing impacts should be evaluated as a function of the total amount of effort, spatial footprint per unit of effort, and the actual impact within the spatial footprint per unit effort (Sharp et al. 2008). These factors should be detailed in fishing plans and descriptions of the gear to be used, and quantitatively estimated. Remaining components needed to evaluate significance of impact are the likelihood of interaction per fishing event (which is a function of the distribution of vulnerable species or communities relative to the fishery footprint) and the ecological consequence of a given impact (which depends on the distribution, density, and recovery potential of the organisms in question). These latter factors are highly difficult to measure for deepwater fisheries, but assessments will need to include some estimation of likelihood of interaction and ecological consequences. This information may need to be inferred from studies in other areas. 31

Cumulative or recurring impacts magnify the ecological consequence of an impact on organisms which have low recovery rates. If the frequency of impact is shorter than the recovery period of the species and biogenic habitats concerned, recovery can be negligible. Assessments need to specifically consider the rate of impact (on a temporal and geographical scale) in relation to rates of recovery of taxa likely to occur in impacted areas, and to evaluate the likely cumulative nature of impacts 31

4.6 Hierarchy of Bottom Fishing Impacts 31

The intent of UNGA Resolution 61/105 and the SPRFMO Interim Measures is to prevent significant adverse impacts on fragile benthic species in deep water. Concerns are mainly focused on the impact of mobile fishing gears that are designed to, or are likely to, move across the seabed during fishing, causing direct physical impacts to structure-forming benthic species. Bottom fishing is defined as fishing with any gear type likely to come in contact with the bottom (FAO 2008). The SPRFMO intermediate measures apply to all bottom fishing methods (SPRFMO 2007a). While some benthic ecosystems are more vulnerable to disturbance than others, they are also differentially vulnerable to the impacts of different bottom fishing gears. 32

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