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This week, the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC) hosted its 8th meeting in Osaka, Japan, to debate its obligations to ensure long-term conservation and sustainable fisheries on the high seas in the North Pacific, while protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs). 

Extending from the western edge of US waters surrounding Hawaii for over two thousand kilometers to the west and north in the international waters of the North Pacific Ocean, the area contains some of the most biologically diverse deep-sea ecosystems on the planet, host to coral forests, stony coral reefs and sponge gardens.  

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) and its members attended the meeting to ensure the parties to NPFC recognise, and are committed to the protection of, the North Pacific region, supporting the closure of seamounts across the world’s ocean to all bottom impact fishing. 

The US and Canada called for the closing of the seamounts to bottom trawling until major gaps in the scientific understanding of the species, ecosystems and biodiversity has been obtained and assessed. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly called for mapping of these areas to determine where species and ecosystems vulnerable to the destructive impact of deep-sea trawling are known or likely to occur and to prevent any further damage from deep-sea bottom trawling.

The members of NPFC did not adopt the proposal from the US and Canada, primarily because of opposition from Japan, meaning the Commission has failed to deliver on its commitments and obligations under international law to manage high seas fisheries to ensure that they “protect biodiversity in the marine environment”. 

However, while delays to protections continue, there is evidence of regeneration of coral and other deep-sea ecosystems on the seamounts in Hawaiian waters, which had historically been heavily trawled but were closed to bottom fishing 40 years ago. Protection measures have been shown to yield results.

Bronwen Golder, Seamounts Campaign Lead at the DSCC, said: “In 2006 the members of the United Nations agreed a resolution to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, including seamounts, from destructive fishing practices. While significant progress has been made, the failure of the NPFC to agree to the proposal presented by the US and Canada means another year of failed implementation of a UN resolution, despite compelling science, and the NPFC’s own regulations, making the case for seamount protection unequivocal. 

“As the NPFC approaches its 10th anniversary and the international community moves towards ratification of the high seas treaty, our expectation is that NPFC members will recognise their responsibility to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, like seamounts, from the impacts of bottom fishing. Acting on that responsibility is needed sooner rather than later.”

Response from the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition members:

Matthew Gianni, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition: “We are disappointed that the proposal by the United States and Canada has not been adopted. The continued degradation of unique, long-lived deep-sea species and ecosystems along the Emperor Seamount Chain cannot be justified and is, fundamentally, in contravention of international law and political commitments to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. 

“The fisheries on these seamounts have heavily depleted the populations of fish they are catching, making them among the most unsustainable fisheries in the world. The good news is that there is evidence that deep-sea ecosystems can recover, even if it might take decades or more to do so. Critical to this however, is that seamounts are closed to trawling.” 

Megan Randles, policy adviser to the Protect the Oceans campaign at Greenpeace: “Unfortunately, RFMOs like the North Pacific Fisheries Commission keep postponing action year after year, usually saying we need more science. But the science is clear. Vulnerable marine ecosystems are present all along the Emperor Seamounts and they need urgent protection. Every fishing season they are harmed by bottom fishing. Failing to protect them is plainly against UNGA Resolutions on bottom fishing adopted almost 20 years ago, and yet another example of why we need to urgently ratify the High Seas Treaty so we can protect these precious ecosystems”. 

-Ends-

 

Notes to Editors

The member countries of the North Pacific Fisheries Commission are China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Canada, the United States, Vanuatu and Taiwan. 

The DSCC’s priorities for the NPFC meeting can be found here: https://deep-sea-conservation.org/resources/priorities-for-the-8th-meeting-of-npfc/ 

About the DSCC

The DSCC is made up of over 100 non-government organizations, fishers organizations and law and policy institutes working together to protect vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems. We aim to substantially reduce the greatest threats to life in the deep sea and to safeguard the long-term health, integrity and resilience of deep-sea ecosystems.