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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
2.Purpose of the Standard
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.
The contributing objectives of this BFIAS are to:
Establish guidelines for proposing and describing bottom fishing activities to be conducted in the SPRFMO Area.
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.
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.
Develop a process to identify and protect VMEs and deep-sea fish stocks at an appropriate scale across the SPRFMO Area.
The Bottom Fishery Impact Assessment Standard follows several key principles:
The process and definitions adopted under the BFIAS should be consistent with globally accepted best practice conservation measures for the protection of VMEs.
Biological diversity present in the ecosystem should be protected, and long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish stocks maintained.
Measures taken to avoid impacts on VMEs should be risk-based, quantifiable, monitored and periodically reviewed.
Management decisions should be based on the best available information, and revised when this information is improved.
Decision makers should consider uncertainty in the information available, and exercise caution appropriate to the level of uncertainty and risk.
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.
This standard has been designed to achieve three primary outcomes:
i) That areas containing VMEs are protected from significant adverse impacts due to bottom fishing;
ii) That sustainability of deep sea stocks is maintained; and
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.
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):
11. The main objectives of the management of DSFs are to promote responsible fisheries that provide economic opportunities while ensuring the conservation of marine living resources and the protection of marine biodiversity, by:
i. ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources in the deep seas; and
ii. preventing significant adverse impacts on VMEs (FAO 2008)