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The UNGA Review of Deep-sea Fisheries on the high seas took place over several days during the negotiation of the annual fisheries resolution by the UNGA between 7-15 November 2022. The Review and resulting Sustainable Fisheries Resolution will cover an issue that has been a focus of the DSCC for many years–vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) and the significant adverse impacts (SAIs) resulting from bottom trawling on seamounts. Below are the priorities that the DSCC Global Seamounts team will be taking into the UNGA Fisheries Review.

DSCC Priorities for UNGA Fisheries Review

1. A phase-out of bottom trawling on seamounts and other topographical features in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). Given the increasing scientific evidence that bottom trawling on seamounts cannot be managed to prevent damage/SAIs to ecosystems found on seamounts and other underwater topographical features, our first priority will be to recommend a phase out of all bottom trawling on seamounts and other topographical features (e.g. oceanic ridge systems) in ABNJ. Fishing with bottom static gear (pots, longlines), where permitted, should be managed on a highly precautionary basis, including any permitted exploratory fisheries.

2. A call on States and regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) to take measures to provide for the recovery or regeneration of degraded VMEs in keeping with/implementing the commitments in sustainable development goal (SDG) 14 Target 2, the Rio+20 and Leaders Pledge commitments to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, and the designation of the decade 2021-2030 by the UN General Assembly as the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. FAO, as the organization, together with UNEP, designated to assist states in implementing the Decade should get behind this.

3. VMEs should be recognized as the totality of the populations of species associated with the VME, not simply the species which are members of an overall ‘VME indicator taxonomic group’ or groups which form the biogenic structure of the habitat that supports the VME. The potential impact on each individual VME and its composite species (impacts will vary from species to species/populations) should be assessed for SAIs.

4. A call to strengthen the application of the precautionary approach to protect VMEs and conducting impact assessments – in case of doubt as to whether the adverse impacts are significant or not, States individually and through RFMOs should consider that likely adverse impacts are significant.

5. Where the status of target species is overexploited or unknown, bottom fisheries should be suspended until stocks are recovered, rebuilt and/or a stock assessment has been conducted and it is demonstrably possible the fishery can be managed to prevent overfishing in line with the obligation in Article 5(h) of the the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA). Bottom fisheries should also be prohibited where there is a risk that rare, endemic, vulnerable, threatened, or endangered species may be impacted.