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NAFO’s 45th Annual Meeting achieved progress in the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems and in advancing their work on the ecosystem approach to fisheries to prevent ecosystem overfishing, including by taking first steps to incorporate climate change into fisheries management. NAFO also agreed to test a new precautionary approach framework on fisheries management that would in principle improve the sustainability of their managed fish stocks.

At its 45th Annual Meeting held in Vigo, Spain, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) agreed to extend several closures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems to 2026 and to consider the current and future impacts of climate change on NAFO managed stocks, non-target species, and associated ecosystems in the Convention Area including in the context of their work on the ecosystem approach to fisheries.

Since last year’s annual meeting, the world has agreed to a Global Biodiversity Framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity. In addition, text for a new High Seas Biodiversity Treaty was adopted in June 2023. As countries were meeting at the NAFO Annual meeting, many of those same countries signed this agreement at the UN this week, with 60 ratifications needed for that agreement to come into force.

“NAFO continues to be the only RFMO to fully protect all seamounts on the high seas from bottom trawl fishing within its jurisdiction – setting an important example for other RFMOs, primarily in the North and South Pacific and Indian Oceans to do the same. This is all the more important given the  increased international focus and political commitments by countries to halt and reverse biodiversity loss globally, including  in the high seas areas of the ocean” says Matt Gianni of DSCC . “Further extending four existing closures to the end of 2026 demonstrates that conservation of deep-sea biodiversity is a key component of long-term sustainable and ecosystem based fisheries management, as required under the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement and UN General Assembly resolutions. However, NAFO still has a considerable way to go to protect areas on the high seas on the Grand Banks and Flemish Cap to where vulnerable marine ecosystems are known to occur but remain outside of existing closed areas. The Scientific Council of NAFO estimates that bottom trawling is allowed in some 30-40% of deep-sea sponge and large coral ecosystems in these areas and that less than 20% of other deepwater species such as black corals and bryozoans are protected.” are -Continued efforts to fully protect these areas by closing them to bottom fishing  would directly contribute to the implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework adopted by the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in Montreal last year and should set the stage for RFMO cooperation under the new UN High Seas Treaty opened for signature this week at UN Headquarters, once it is in force.

With unprecedented temperature increases in the North Atlantic this year, NAFO’s agreement this year to consider climate impacts on fish stocks managed by NAFO, as well as non-target species and associated ecosystems marks important, if overdue, progress related to its work on implementing an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

“We welcome this first step on incorporating climate change considerations, and urge NAFO to further consider reducing emissions related to fishing activity in future decisions. Matt Gianni of DSCC. “We know that marine ecosystems will need to be as healthy as possible to ensure resilience to climate change, which increases the need for science based decision making at NAFO.”

Ongoing concerns were raised regarding the impacts of oil and gas on the Canadian extended continental shelf that overlaps with the NAFO Regulatory Area. At this meeting, NAFO agreed to submit some of its bottom fishing closures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems as “other effective area-based conservation measures”, suggesting that these areas could be considered to count towards international protected area targets of 30 per cent protection by 2030. These areas were selected in the first instance because they currently do not overlap with other potentially impactful human activities (e.g. oil and gas, deep seabed mining), and if the current NAFO closures to protect VMEs in these areas are lifted in the future, they would not count towards the 30% any longer.

“It is critical that coastal states and NAFO as well as other intergovernmental bodies with jurisdiction on areas beyond national jurisdiction or regulating activities that impact the high seas work together to ensure that biodiversity protection by one entity is not undermined by the approval of industrial activity by another entity.” Sian Owen, Director Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.

NAFO also agreed to testing a new draft precautionary approach to fisheries framework, which in principle is aimed at maintaining sustainable catch levels and to rebuilding stocks to a healthy level. At the same time, a proposal by Canada on a bycatch quota for American plaice on the Grand Banks – a stock under moratorium –  in the directed Yellowtail flounder fishery – up to 25% (or up to 3 750 kg, whichever is the greater) had several delegations wondering on the bad precedent that this practice could set for sustainable fisheries management in the NAFO regulatory area. In the end it was agreed as a compromise, despite concerns expressed by the EU, US, and Norway, to limit the bycatch to 15% of the yellowtail flounder catch or 2900 kg, whichever is greater for 2024, replacing the current rule to keep bycatch to unavoidable levels.

“Every year, our oceans face increased pressure from human activity and as well as increasingly unpredictable climate impacts. It is imperative that countries who agreed to progressive environmental protection measures at NAFO, do the same in other governance fora, both for international fisheries as well as with regards to deep sea mining,” says Gianni.

ENDS

For further information contact:

Patricia Roy +34 696 905 907 patricia@communicationsinc.co.uk

Spokespeople available for comment

Matthew Gianni – Deep Sea Conservation Coalition + 31 6 46 16 88 99 – matthewgianni@gmail.com

Susanna Fuller- Oceans North susannafuller@oceansnorth.ca

Bronwen Golder – Deep Sea Conservation Coalition bronwengolder@gmail.com