The deep sea is the least studied and understood of the world’s ecosystems. To this day, as the last frontier in human exploration and the search for knowledge, it remains largely unexplored. Fortunately, recent technological advances are helping us to learn more every day about the diverse life found deep below the ocean’s surface. For instance, recent scientific studies of the sea floor have revealed a complex area of trenches, ridges and seamounts, like that found on land.
These same advances in technology have also revealed an increasing footprint of human activities on the sea floor. There is now evidence revealing that some deep-sea ecosystems, such as those found with cold-water coral reefs, have been damaged or destroyed by some fishing techniques.
Following concerns raised by the scientific community, and under Canada’s leading influence, in 2006 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems against the effect of fishing in the high seas. It includes ways to manage risks to the marine environment, especially to the marine biodiversity found with cold-water corals, seamounts, hydrothermal vents, and for other sensitive species, such as deep-water sponges.
Canada played a leadership role in the 2006 United Nations General Assembly Resolution on Sustainable Fisheries in respect to protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems (UNGA 61/105), a resolution that provided strong guidance on the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems from significant adverse impacts of bottom fishing activities in the high seas.
The Resolution calls on countries to work individually and cooperatively through regional fisheries management organziations to develop deep-sea fisheries strategies that take into account the precautionary approach and ecosystem-based management.
The Resolution outlines modern and responsible fisheries management practices in relation to vulnerable areas. It also means:
These new practices are now being planned for and implemented by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) and countries that fish on the high seas.
These new measures are also enforceable because RFMOs have the legal authority to enforce conservation measures, and fishing nations have the legal tools to control the actions of their fishing vessels. In areas of the high seas that are not regulated by RFMOs, the measures that fishing nations adopt would be publicly available so these countries are accountable for the actions of their vessels.
Enforcement would be transparent, with nations encouraged to name, isolate and pressure those who don't respect the rules.
To assist implementation, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations published a set of technical guidelines in June 2009 aimed at helping the fisheries sector reduce its impacts on fragile deep-sea fish species and ecosystems. Canada participated actively in the work at the FAO that led to the adoption of these guidelines.
The guidelines provide a detailed framework that countries can use, individually and in the context of RFMOs, to manage deep sea fisheries in the high-seas.
In the fall of 2009, the UN Secretary-General will report on advances made by States and RFMOs to implement the 2006 commitments.