Destructive High Seas Fishing Practices Under Review at the United Nations

Sep 15, 2011, 07:00 ET from Pew Environment Group

Pew underscores need for urgent action following new report on impact of deep-sea fishing

NEW YORK, Sept. 15, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Fragile deep-sea habitats, which have taken centuries to grow, remain vulnerable to the destructive effects of bottom trawling. Findings from a new report reveal many countries engaged in high-seas fishing and regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) have yet to act on their commitments five years after the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) passed the first resolution outlining how countries should protect vulnerable deep-sea biodiversity.

According to the study, Unfinished Business: A Review of the Implementation of the Provisions of UNGA Resolutions 61/105 and 64/72, a significant number of fishing countries have fallen so far short of meeting the U.N. requirements that they warrant immediate closure of their already heavily depleted high-seas fisheries. The report, by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, also highlights that marine ecosystems remain open with few or no constraints on bottom fishing.

The release of Unfinished Business is timed to coincide with a key UNGA meeting scheduled for Sept. 15-16 in New York to assess regional and international actions to safeguard the deep sea. This will be the first time the UNGA will consider nongovernmental organizations' recommendations as part of its formal review of how well countries have implemented the resolutions.

"Nations agreed to a hard-fought compromise in 2006 calling on fishing States and regional fisheries management organizations to act urgently to protect the deep sea," said Karen Sack, director of International Ocean Conservation at the Pew Environment Group and a panelist at this year's UNGA meeting. "They have had 5 years to act on their commitments, made to safeguard these vulnerable marine ecosystems, but haven't done so across most of the ocean. Any high seas-bottom-fishing operations that continue without fully complying should be considered illegal, unregulated, unreported, and be stopped."

Unfinished Business also underscores how these governments' failure to effectively implement the U.N. resolutions could undermine the authority of the UNGA as the preeminent body with oversight and responsibility for the conservation and protection of the deep sea. In addition, it says that inaction by fishing countries could lower the standard for other issues likely to arise around governance of biodiversity outside national jurisdiction.

A scientific study recently published in the scientific journal Marine Policy concludes that, with few exceptions, deep-sea fisheries are unsustainable. "Deep-sea fish are especially vulnerable because they can't repopulate quickly after being overfished," said marine biologist Elliott Norse, the study's lead author and president of the Marine Conservation Institute. "People should be fishing in more productive waters nearer consumers."

The paper, supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program, also examined such economic and policy factors as fishing subsidies and weak international regulation in the assessment of the long-term viability of these fisheries.


Unfinished Business: A Review of the Implementation of the Provisions of UNGA Resolutions 61/105 and 64/72 Related to the Management of Bottom Fisheries in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction was produced by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), an alliance in which the Pew Environment Group is an active partner and founding member. To read the full report, visit

The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nongovernmental organization that works globally to establish pragmatic, science-based policies that protect our oceans, preserve our wildlands and promote clean energy.

The DSCC was founded in 2004, to address the issue of bottom trawling on the high seas in the absence of an effective governance regime. The coalition is made up of over 70 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), fisher organizations and law and policy institutes, committed to protecting the deep sea. A coordination team works together with a Steering Group that currently consists of, Ecology Action Centre, Greenpeace International, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Environment Group and Seas at Risk.

Contact: Shannon Pao, 202-540-6568/

SOURCE Pew Environment Group