The aims of this paper are twofold: firstly, to review the efforts made by RFMOs to implement HSBFCs and suggest options for improving the protection of VMEs within this framework; and secondly, to provide a brief overview of options for addressing fisheries in any new international agreement on high seas biodiversity, currently under discussion.

Highlights:

  • DESTRUCTIVE FISHING ACTIVITIES IN AREAS BEYOND NATIONAL JURISDICTION

Fishing is one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (the “high seas”). Bottom fishing in particular causes significant impacts to deep-sea ecosystems by damaging or destroying long-lived species, reducing the complexity of the seabed and decreasing species diversity and faunal biomass. Bottom trawling is generally considered to be the most destructive method as it involves dragging heavy fishing gear across the seabed.

  • SLOW DEVELOPMENT OF HIGH SEAS BOTTOM FISHERIES CLOSURES

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly called on Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) to take specific actions to regulate high seas bottom fisheries, including to close areas of the high seas to bottom fishing activities where there is likely to be significant adverse impacts to vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs). Reviews have found that progress has been slow, and this update on the current status of closures suggests that RFMO biodiversity conservation efforts continue to advance slowly.

  • STRENGTHENING THE ROLE OF REGIONAL FISHERIES MANAGEMENT ORGANISATIONS IN BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION

Analysis of high seas bottom fisheries closures highlights that existing powers are not being fully utilised and that best practice is not always followed. RFMOs will need to fully utilise their powers before authorising high seas bottom fishing to proceed, including adopting measures to prevent significant adverse impacts on VMEs and implementing high seas bottom fisheries closures. A possible new international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction could facilitate these improvements, for example by providing common overarching principles and objectives.