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).
Within regard to bottom fisheries within the Area, SPRFMO is primarily concerned with managing the fishable area of thedeep 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.
Figure 1. Map of the South Pacific Ocean showing the SPRFMO Area under negotiation, excluding state EEZs, and highlighting bathymetry contours of 200 m to 2,000 m.
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.
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.
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.
4.1Low Productivity Resources
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.
4.2Vulnerability and Risk to Marine Ecosystems
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:
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.
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.
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.
4.3Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems
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:
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.
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:
• habitats that contain endemic species;
• habitats of rare, threatened or endangered species that occur only in discrete areas; or
• nurseries or discrete feeding, breeding, or spawning areas.
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.
iii. Fragility – an ecosystem that is highly susceptible to degradation by anthropogenic activities.
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:
• slow growth rates;
• late age of maturity;
• low or unpredictable recruitment; or
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.
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:
FAO Guidelines Annex 1. Examples of potentially vulnerable species groups, communities and habitats, as well as features that potentially support them. 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.
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:
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);
ii. some types of sponge dominated communities;
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
iv. seep and vent communities comprised of invertebrate and microbial species found nowhere else (i.e. endemic).
Examples of topographical, hydrophysical or geological features, including fragile geological structures, that potentially support the species groups or communities, referred to above:
i. submerged edges and slopes (e.g. corals and sponges);
ii. summits and flanks of seamounts, guyots, banks, knolls, and hills (e.g. corals, sponges, xenophyphores);
iii. canyons and trenches (e.g. burrowed clay outcrops, corals);
iv. hydrothermal vents (e.g. microbial communities and endemic invertebrates); and
v. cold seeps (e.g. mud volcanoes for microbes, hard substrates for sessile invertebrates).