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Terms of Reference

Science-based Encounter Protocol Framework for Corals and Sponges

National Science Advisory Process

March 15-18, 2011
Ottawa, Ontario

Co-Chairs: W.B. Brodie and A. White


Canada is committed both domestically and internationally to conserve, manage, and exploit fish stocks in a sustainable manner, as well as to manage the impacts of fishing on marine ecosystems with particular priority given to sensitive benthic areas.

Endorsed by Canada, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) approved Resolution 61/105 in December 2006.  This Resolution calls on States to directly, or through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and Arrangements (RFMO/A), apply the precautionary approach and ecosystem approach to sustainably manage fish stocks and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VME), which may include coldwater corals and sponges, from significant adverse impacts (SAI).

Coordinated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Committee on Fisheries (COFI), the International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas were negotiated by States and RFMO/A for the sustainable management of deep-sea fisheries consistent with the precautionary approach and to guide the implementation of UNGA Resolution 61/105.  Under this Resolution, States and RFMO/A are instructed that they should have an appropriate protocol identified in advance for how fishing vessels should respond to encounters with a VME in the course of fishing operations. 

The FAO Guidelines also state that, if after assessing all available scientific and technical information, the presence of VME or the likelihood that fishing activities would cause SAI on VME cannot be adequately determined, States should only authorise fishing activities to proceed in accordance with:

  1. precautionary conservation and management measures to prevent SAI as described in paragraph 65 of the Guidelines;
  2. paragraph 74 that refers to a protocol for encounters with VME consistent with paragraphs 67-69 and measures, including ongoing scientific research, monitoring, and data collection, to reduce uncertainty.

In alignment with its international commitments, Canada is domestically implementing the Sustainable Fisheries Framework (SFF) which aims to ensure that fisheries are environmentally sustainable while supporting economic prosperity.  The SFF incorporates the precautionary and ecosystem approaches into fisheries management decisions to support continued health and productivity of Canada’s fisheries and fish stocks, while managing impacts on biodiversity and fish habitat. 

A key component of the SFF is the Policy for Managing the Impacts of Fishing on Sensitive Benthic Areas (released in April 2009).  The Policy will aid in the management of fisheries, providing measures to mitigate impacts of fishing on sensitive benthic areas or avoid impacts of fishing that are likely to cause serious or irreversible harm to sensitive marine habitats, communities, and species.  Under the SFF and for the purposes of this advisory process, consistent with the FAO Guidelines, serious or irreversible harm is defined as ‘impacts 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’.

In addition to the SFF, this science advice will also inform regional coral and sponge conservation plans/strategies that outline conservation, management, and research objectives that reflect fishing and non-fishing impacts on corals and sponges in Canadian waters.

A national Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) peer-review process will be held in Ottawa, Ontario from March 15-18, 2011 to provide science advice on the ecological considerations relevant to the development of a science-based encounter protocol framework for corals and sponges in Canadian waters.  This advisory process is in follow-up to a previous science advisory process held in March 2010 concerning corals, sponges and hydrothermal vents in Canadian waters.

Working Papers and Objectives

Working Papers

Working papers submitted for review by meeting participants will comprise the primary information sources that will be considered at this science advisory process.  Working papers must be approved by the Chair(s) and should be submitted no later than three weeks prior to the science advisory process.

Participants will discuss the following questions with regard to the working papers:

  1. For working papers that include a review of available information and/or literature:
    1. How comprehensive is the thematic coverage of the topic being reviewed?
    2. Is treatment of the information included in the paper balanced and without bias?
    3. Are the conclusions in the paper(s) consistent with the information reviewed?
    4. Is there any other relevant scientific information or literature available that has not been considered in the review paper(s) that might change the conclusions drawn from the paper(s)?

  2. For working papers presenting new information from surveys, analyses, modelling, or other types of original scientific research:
    1. Are the methods adequately described in the working paper or within the cited references?
    2. Are the methods appropriate for the questions being examined?
    3. Are the results presented completely enough for review for soundness and implications?
    4. Are the conclusions consistent with the results?
    5. Are sources of uncertainty and the implications of major uncertainties adequately explained?

Based on the working papers presented at the meeting, meeting participants will intend to fulfill the following objectives:

  1. Considering the FAO Guidelines, Resolution 61/105, and any other relevant literature, discuss and determine the key components that a science-based encounter protocol framework should include.  For example: definition of an “encounter”, identification manuals, observer coverage, enforcement, and other mitigation measures that could be implemented when an “encounter” has occurred (e.g. “move-on” provisions, time-area closures, buffer zones, reporting requirements, etc.).

  2. Determine what constitutes an “encounter” by:
    1. Describing the interaction between a fishing event and the benthic attribute (i.e. corals and/or sponges in their natural habitat) that constitutes serious or irreversible harm. Note that the interaction may or may not be evident onboard the fishing vessel; and  
    2. Describing the information that could be available to an individual onboard a fishing vessel to assist in indicating that such an interaction had occurred.

  3. Review various techniques which could be used to estimate encounter thresholds for certain species, groups of species, areas, and/or fisheries and identify those appropriate for use in Canadian waters.

    ***Note that science advice regarding the values of encounter thresholds for areas within Canadian waters will not be given at this science advisory process. However, in demonstrating how a certain technique may be used to estimate encounter thresholds, quantitative values may be given as examples.

  4. Considering both immediate and cumulative effects, identify and discuss the factors that may influence the effectiveness of specific mitigation measures and other components of an encounter protocol; where considerations are particularly relevant to corals and sponges, discuss their implications.

  5. Identify the key sources of uncertainty that may affect the efficacy of the implementation of an encounter protocol and how these sources may be reduced (e.g. gear catchability, point of recognition vs. point of encounter, etc.).

Identify the circumstances or areas where encounter protocols would afford the best protection to corals and sponges from serious or irreversible harm owing to fishing activities (e.g. historically fished areas, frontier areas, etc.).

Expected Publications

Outputs from the meeting will include a CSAS Science Advisory Report, CSAS Research Document(s) based on working papers that form the basis for the science advice, and CSAS Proceedings to document the discussions at the meeting.


This science advisory process will follow the CSAS National Science Advisory Process, and will include experts from DFO Science and other sectors of the Department, as well as a broad range of invited external participants (e.g. fishing industry stakeholders, academia, non-governmental organizations, etc.) who can contribute to the Science debate.  The invited experts will be selected for objectivity and credibility among peers and will be balanced across the diverse perspectives.


Participation to CSAS peer review meetings is by invitation only.

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