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14


14.3.3 Indicator 3: Number of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems identified by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and closed to fishing or otherwise protected (1,000/934/934)


This indicator measures the number of marine ecosystems that have been identified as vulnerable to impacts from fishing activities and are protected by RFMOs (Figure 14.2). This indicator serves as a complement to the stock status indicators (e.g. references to FAO State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) reports) used in Chapter 7. It relates to a debate in wider policy literature on how to protect biodiversity. Although some approaches prefer sectoral regulation, such as on fisheries, mining or shipping, others (such as that underlying this indicator) advocate complete protection of biodiversity and habitats from all threats regardless of sector. VMEs are identified by an internationally agreed process that can be found in paragraph 42 of the International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas (FAO 2009) and entail a management response that is generally embedded in the management process of RFMOs.


Policy relevance As described in Section 14.2.5, 14.2.6, the concept of a VME gained momentum following UNGA Resolution 61/105. It stems from the Rio +20 commitment to enhance actions to protect VMEs, such as impact assessments, but is most recently established in SDG 14 on oceans, particularly targets 14.2 and 14.4. VME protection also appears in CBD Aichi Target 6.


Causal relation


UNGA has identified a number of marine habitats with vulnerable ecosystem features (Figure 14.2), including coastal lagoons, mangroves, estuaries, wetlands, seagrass beds and coral reefs, but also areas further from shore and sometimes beyond national jurisdiction, such as spawning and nursery grounds, cold-water corals, seamounts, various features associated with polar regions, hydrothermal vents, deep-sea trenches, submarine canyons and oceanic ridges (UNGA 2004). Here we concentrate on the identification and protection of VMEs by RFMOs, showing the areas of coverage through maps, as numbers were not available.


RFMOs have been required to protect VMEs since 2008, with specific requirements laid out under UNGA Resolutions 59/25, 61/105 and 64/72. VME protection typically consists of banning or otherwise restricting bottom-trawling in VMEs. Bottom-trawling consists of vessels dragging nets along or near the bottom of the sea; it is considered especially destructive because it is both indiscriminate, including considerable by-catch beyond the target species, and operates at the same part of the water column as many of the most vulnerable species and much oceanic habitat. RFMOs are expected to help identify VMEs within their regulatory areas, which are often beyond areas of national jurisdiction, and protect them against destructive practices.


Other influencing factors


Despite some early adoption, RFMO implementation has been variable. While recently established RFMOs such as the South Pacific (SP) RFMO and the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) expand the marine area beyond national jurisdiction subjected to regulatory opportunities, they may not yet provide adequate stock assessment and leave some


VMEs open to bottom-trawling unless environmental impact assessments (see Section 11.3.2) highlight that further restrictions are necessary (Currie 2016). Other RFMOs, such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) and the South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO), have closed substantial areas that are likely to contain VMEs, and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has banned bottom-trawling in some areas. NAFO has identified 20 areas as being vulnerable to bottom-trawling and subsequently closed them (Figure 14.3). The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) lags behind other RFMOs in fulfilling these obligations. GFCM measures to protect VMEs are limited to three fisheries restricted areas (FRAs) and a prohibition on trawling below 1,000 metres. Most VMEs in the Mediterranean are, therefore, entirely unprotected (Oceana 2016).


Caveats


Banning destructive fishing practices in VMEs may not guarantee their preservation. Lost driftnets, marine litter, ocean acidification and eutrophication can all affect VMEs, even if they are protected from destructive fishing practices. Further, relying on protected VMEs as an indicator potentially disregards important, unprotected VMEs. However, compared to terrestrial ecosystems, data on marine biodiversity remain limited (Martin et al. 2015). IUCN’s Red List of Ecosystems (IUCN 2017) provides a third-party attempt to catalogue ecosystems, including marine ecosystems, that are most vulnerable. The goal is to have all ecosystems assessed by 2025. This and further indicators should be developed.


364 Policies, Goals, Objectives and Environmental Governance: An assessment of their effectiveness


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