This paper was produced in response to a request for advice on a scientific basis for managing fisheries impacts on benthic habitats and communities, with an emphasis on coldwater corals, sponges, and hydrothermal vent (HTV) communities. Coldwater corals, sponges and HTV communities are consistently used as examples of ecosystem components that require special attention owing to their ecological importance. Departmental mandates of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) speak to Canada’s commitments to manage anthropogenic impacts, including fishing, in a manner that insures sustainable utilization, conservation of biodiversity, no net loss of fisheries habitat and protection of species at risk. The legal precedence for this mandate is derived at the national level under the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act (SARA), and under ratified international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 61/105. These regulations and international agreements provide the characteristics and definitions of what is legally “important”. Although the importance of protecting fish habitat is well understood, the management of anthropogenic impacts has been inconsistently applied to various threats. Impacts often have unique, although sometimes overlapping pathways of effects, at both the species and the ecosystem functioning level. There are a number of ecosystem approaches to management (EAM) that have made progress on defining the key components necessary to quantify impacts, manage threats to ecosystem functions and the delivery of key ecosystem services like fisheries. The biggest problem that plagues existing EAM is the lack of appropriate data at the species and ecosystem levels. It is recommended that a holistic EAM be developed, which encompasses DFO’s mandate to manage all threats under a common framework.
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