|World Deep-sea fisheries|
<<lessOverview: Deep-sea fisheries comprise those fisheries that occur beyond and below the continental shelf break (on the continental slopes and below to about 2 000 m), or are undertaken in association with deep oceanic topographic structures such as seamounts, ridges and banks. The types of fishing gear and vessels that are involved vary considerably depending on the species targeted and their behaviour. The gear can include longlines and other hook and line gears, bottom trawls, midwater trawls, gillnets and traps/pots, but also in some cases pelagic gear such as purse seines.
The deep-sea habitat poses particular challenges to marine life as it is relatively cold, dark and of low productivity. The main thermocline rarely extends below 1 200 m and, below this, the temperature falls to about 2 °C and even lower in certain areas. No light penetrates beyond 1 000 m, and even at depths of 150 m light intensity is reduced to 1 percent of that at the surface and is insufficient for photosynthesis (van Dover, 2000; Koslow, 2007). Deep-sea species have developed different strategies for biological and life history adaptations to cope with the conditions found in the deep sea. They are a therefore a diverse group of species with different life histories, productivity rates and distribution patterns.
Deep-sea fisheries have attracted increased attention worldwide in recent years, and the sustainability of these fisheries and their potential impacts on biodiversity have been the focus of discussions in many international fora. Many deep-sea fisheries take place in the high seas, thus posing additional governance challenges. Those that have given rise to most concerns are fisheries that affect the most vulnerable species (e.g. those with lower productivity) and that are undertaken with gear types that may have an impact on the bottom habitat.
Type of production system: Industrial
The Worldwide Review of Bottom Fisheries in the High Seas (Bensch et al., 2009)
provided a regional overview of historical and current fisheries in the deep sea high
seas. The review found that in 2006 about 285 vessels were involved in high seas
demersal fisheries, with an estimated total catch of about 250 000 tonnes in 2006, based
on a catch of about 60 species.
The species targeted differs between regions. In the
Northeast Atlantic, vessels typically target a range of species including blue ling (Molva
), roundnose grenadier (Coryphaenoides rupestris
), tusk (Brosme brosme
black scabbardfish (Aphanopus carbo
) and some species of sharks. In the Northwest
Atlantic, important species include Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides
northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis
), Atlantic redfishes (Sebastes
spp.) and skates. In
other areas, more limited numbers of species are generally targeted. In the Southwest
Atlantic, for example, Argentine hake is the main species (Merluccius hubbsi
), and in the
Southeast Atlantic the main species of commercial value are orange roughy, alfonsino
spp.), deep-sea red crab (Chaecon
spp.) and Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus
). In the North and South Pacific as well as the Indian Ocean, most of the deepsea
fishing occurs over seamounts and ridge areas. The targeted species in these fisheries
include orange roughy, alfonsino, and slender armourhead (Pseudopentaceros wheeleri
In the North Pacific, there is a pot fishery for deep-sea crabs. In the Southern Ocean,
fisheries target mainly toothfish with longlines (D. eleginoides
and D. mawsoni
Related FisheriesPortuguese (Madeira) line fishery for black
Traditional deep-sea fisheries such as the Portuguese (Madeira) line fishery for black
scabbardfish (Aphanopus carbo
) is a rare example of a deep-sea fishery that, because it
has traditionally used hook-and line-gear, has proved sustainable over a period of about
150 years (Martins and Fereira, 1995). Adults of this species are benthopelagic living in
the depth range 400–1 600 m. It is a fast growing species with a life span of about 12–
14 years (Morales-Nin et al., 2002; Figueiredo et al., 2003). Landings in Madeira reached
a maximum value of around 4 400 tonnes in 1998 and since then has steadily decreased to just below 3 000 tonnes in 2007 (Bordalo-Machado et al., 2009). The number of vessels
active in this fishery has progressively decreased over time. However gear efficiency has
increased mainly though an increase in the number of hooks per line set.Hooks and lines
Related FisheriesTrawling fisheries
The most commercially important deep-sea fisheries are those that are harvested
by trawling. Many of these occur in association with seamount and seafloor ridges.
Trawl fisheries using factory freezer trawlers started in the mid-1950s, primarily based
on exploratory fishing conducted by large fishing fleet of the then Soviet Union.
However, it was only later on, starting in the mid-1970s and further developing into
the 1990s, that widespread exploitation of deep-sea regions began. This development
was triggered by several factors including, among others, the introduction of EEZs. The
establishment of EEZs excluded fleets that in the past had fished these waters and led
some of them to look for new fishing grounds. Technological advances made fishing in
the deep sea possible and commercially viable. Changes in the consumer perception of
seafood, including the more widespread marketing of frozen products, also contributed
to improved prices for deep-sea fishes.Trawl nets
Related FisheriesOrange roughy
The fishery for orange roughy is well known among recently developed deepsea
fisheries. In New Zealand and southeast Australia, commercial fisheries began in
the 1970s and 1980s; however, orange roughy was first described from the Azores.
Fisheries later developed in the North Atlantic, on the Walvis Ridge in the Southeast
Atlantic (Namibia) in the mid-1990s, off Chile also in the 1990s and in the Southwest
Indian Ocean in 1999. A small fishery also exists in the Bay of Biscay. Specialized
aimed-trawling techniques have developed. At first, massive catches from spawning
aggregations could be taken in minutes, resulting in split codends and lost catches.
Maximum sustainable levels of exploitation of orange roughy may be as low as or lower
than 5 percent of unfished biomass, i.e. M ~ 0.04. Accumulating evidence indicates that
few of these fisheries have been exploited sustainably, and it remains uncertain what
ongoing yields will be. Smaller stocks usually do not escape depletion once they become
targeted. However, there is conflicting evidence as to whether other stocks have proved
more resilient to overexploitation, possibly because fishing disperses the fish before the
stock is depleted, and because of episodic spawning. In this case, where fishing depends
on spawning aggregations, not all of the stock may be vulnerable to capture in any one
year as not all spawn each year (Butterworth and Brandão, 2005).
The Macrouridae are another group whose members are widespread and abundant
in particular locations. They are typical pelagic “cruisers” and inhabit the mid-to-upper continental slope. In the North Atlantic, fisheries that use bottom trawls exist
for roughhead grenadier (Macrourus berglax
) and roundnose grenadier. These fisheries
initially fished in depths of 600–800 m, and more recently to 1 500 m. However,
experience in these fisheries off Newfoundland shows the all-too-familiar pattern of
TACs tracking declining trends in reported landings. The roundnose grenadier has a
potential longevity of 70 years, although in the Northeast Atlantic, fish ages are usually
of 20–30 years (Valerie and Pascal, 2000). Thus, as for other deep-sea species, Macrourids
exhibit the characteristics of many deep-sea fisheries that render them particularly
susceptible to overfishing.Bottom trawls
The Pleuronectidae are a highly evolved group that is not usually associated with
deep-sea fisheries. However, they constitute important fisheries as members of this
group occur in both the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans. In the Atlantic,
the best known has been that for Greenland halibut on the continental slopes and high
seas. This fish had an average size in commercial catches of about 1 kg up until the mid-
1980s, but then declined to about 200 g in the early 1990s (Koslow et al., 2000).
Related FisheriesPurse seine fishery for Blue whiting
The blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou
) is also often classified as a deep-sea
species, although this species has generally higher growth rates and is highly productive
and supports large fisheries. The blue whiting is a bathypelagic species found from
150–3 000 m depth, and is caught mainly by pelagic gear types. This species is caught
by purse seiners in the Northeast Atlantic. The species can attain a length of 40 cm
with an average length of about 31 cm (Campos, Fonseca and Henriques, 2003). Blue
whiting is a straddling stock occupying the EEZs of Faeroe Islands, Norway, the
countries of the EU, and Iceland as well as the high seas. Exploitation started in the
1970s, but has become increasingly important. However, since the record catch of this
species of 2.4 million tonnes in 2004, the catches have decreased drastically and catches
in 2009 were only about 640 000 tonnes. The decrease has been attributed to a fall in
recruitment in 2006, declining spawning stock and reduction of quotas. For 2012, the
ICES recommends an allowable catch of 391 000 tonnes. Recruitment remains low and
is forecast to decline (ICES, 2011).Purse seines
Although there is no commonly agreed definition for deep-sea fishes as such, in general,
from a fisheries perspective, these species can be defined as those inhabiting waters of
the continental slopes and beyond and exploited by fisheries operating n these areas.
The behavioural characteristics of many “deep-sea” species further complicate a search
for an easy and useful definition. Some deep-sea species migrate towards the surface
at night, returning to deeper waters during the day. They thereby form a trophic link
between surface waters and the benthopelagic fishes when these latter prey upon fish
returning from the surface. Other fishes make this diel migration themselves, feeding
in the surface layers and then descending, presumably to avoid being eaten themselves.
Some species only inhabit deep-sea depths as adults.
Deep-sea fish species also display a variety of reproductive strategies ranging
from strongly K-selected species, which may be semelparous (e.g. abyssal grenadier
- Coryphaenoides armatus
, a widely occurring macrourid), through ovoviparous and
oviparous species to those that are strongly r-selected. A number of tactics have been
adopted to reduce dispersion of eggs. For example, the buoyant eggs of the widespread
deep-sea macrourids bear sculptured patterns that slow their ascent. This is an adaptation
not present in species of this family living in shallower waters. Eggs of orange roughy
) are initially buoyant but later sink and probably finish their
development on the seafloor, in this way facilitating their retention in their adult
Growth rate, an important factor for determining stock productivity, is also affected
by depth and temperature. Although some deep-sea species, such as the blue whiting
), are highly productive, many deep-sea species are slowgrowing,
with a relatively high age of first maturity (e.g., orange roughy and the
roundnose grenadier - Coryphaenoides rupestris
). They may not spawn every year and
thus have intermittent recruitment. These characteristics make them highly vulnerable
to exploitation pressure.
Some species form dense aggregations which are accessible to fisheries which have
developed the capability to fish in deep water over the last few decades. Important
deep-sea species that form aggregations include orange roughy, the oreos (Allocyttus
spp. and Pseudocyttus
spp.), alfonsinos (Beryx
spp.) in lower-latitude
fisheries, Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides
) in Southern Ocean fisheries,
spp.) and others.
Away from seamounts, Gadiform fishes such as the Macrouridae predominate. These
species also tend to be slow-growing but are not as “extreme” in their characteristics
as species associated with seamount fisheries. Other species that may be included
in this group are sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria
), Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius
), morids (Moridae), cusk-eels (Brotulidae), and hakes (Merlucciidae).
Species such as the blue whiting may also be considered a deep-sea fish.
Another important feature of deep-sea fishes is that much remains unknown and
new discoveries continue to be made. Indeed, deep-sea elasmobranchs are one of the
groups of particular conservation concern even when not exploited as they are latematuring
and exhibit low fecundity and intermittent reproduction.
Associated Species (Bycatch)
As for most of the other sections in the source volume the catch descriptions are based on FAO
catch statistics – these are species reported to FAO by Member Countries. As mentioned
above, there is no exact “definition” of what are regarded as “deep-sea fishes” and the
type of fishes referred to may vary between different sources. Figure C4.1 shows the
trend in catch of the deep-sea species listed in Table C4.1.
. Unlike in the previous edition
of this report (FAO, 2005), reported catches
of largehead hairtail (Trichiurus lepturus
Bombay-duck (Harpadon nehereus
) have not
been included as these two species have a wide
distribution range. Much of the catch is taken
in relatively shallow waters (Sissenwine and
Mace, 2007), and it is difficult to determine
which portion comes from deep-sea fishing.
Moreover, in the catch reports to FAO, there
is often no indication of the proportion caught
in the high seas.
The catches increased from the 1950s, and
this occurred most rapidly between the mid-
1970s and the end of the 1990s. This pattern
was particularly obvious in the Pacific and
Indian Oceans. However, no information is
available to attribute the changes between 1979 and 1998 to an increase in actual catches or better reporting. Peak catches were
observed in 2003 and 2004, when catches of about 3.7 million tonnes were reported.
Since then, reported catches have declined, and in 2009 total catches were about 1.8
million tonnes. This decreasing trend can in large part be attributed to the decrease in
reported catches of blue whiting in the Atlantic Ocean that decreased from 2.4 million
tonnes in 2004 to about 640 000 tonnes in 2009. Other species in the Atlantic Ocean
with high average catch in the last five years (2005–09) include Patagonian grenadier
), Greenland halibut, southern blue whiting (Micromesistius
) and ling (Molva molva
). In the Indian Ocean, reported catches have generally
been higher since 1997 compared with earlier years. They have been fluctuating between
125 000 and 195 000 tonnes, with the highest catch being observed in 1997. The hairtails
and scabbardfishes (not identified) are the species group with the highest average
reported catches in the Indian Ocean in the last five years. Other important species
include Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides
), blue grenadier (Macruronus
) and orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus
). With the exception of the
Patagonian toothfish, reported catches have decreased for these species in recent years
in this region. In the Pacific Ocean, catches increased until 1992, after which they began
to fluctuate until 1998–99 (peak just below 1 million tonnes in 1998). Since then, catches
in the Pacific have begun to decrease. Since 2004, reported catches in the Pacific have
been in the range between 500 000 tonnes and 550 000 tonnes. Species with the highest
average catches in this ocean in the last five years include the grenadiers (blue grenadier,
Patagonian grenadier and grenadiers and rattails [not identified]), southern blue whiting
and the groups tilefishes (Branchiostegidae) and hairtails and scabbardfishes.
|Figure C4.1 - Annual nominal catches of deep-sea species |
Resources ExploitedOrange roughy
The orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus
) of the family Trachichthyidae is a species
with a wide distribution range that is found in the North and South Atlantic, the Southern Indian Ocean, the Tasman Sea, and
the South Pacific. It inhabits continental slopes,
seamounts and other bottom features and is
commonly found at depths of 500–1 500 m. It
is a slow-growing species, with a high age of
first maturity and relatively low fecundity (Bell
et al., 1992). This species exists as national,
transboundary, straddling and high seas stocks.
It is caught at depths over 800 m by fisheries that
often target spawning aggregations associated
Figure C4.2 shows the catches of orange
roughy reported to the FAO. Catches from
the Pacific Ocean dominate, with only limited
catches from the Atlantic and Indian Oceans
in recent years. Catches for this species are
decreasing, and catches in 2009 were about
13 000 tonnes compared with more than 91 000 tonnes in 1990.
The biological characteristics of this species (slow growth and exceptional longevity)
and its aggregating behaviour make it vulnerable to overfishing. As such, many smaller
fisheries for this species have been closed down as the stocks have been overexploited
and the fishery has become commercially unviable. Stock assessments for this species
are often uncertain, and lack of knowledge of recruitment is a main issue of concern for
the management of this fishery (Dunn, 2007).
|Figure C4.2 - Annual nominal catches of orange roughy |
The oreo dories (Allocystus spp., Neocystus spp. and Pseudocustus spp.) (Figure C4.3)
are Oreostomadids that aggregate close to the sea bed in the deep-sea and form large
shoals over seamounts and canyons. Similar to orange roughy, these species are also
long-lived and slow-growing. The juveniles are pelagic and inhabit oceanic waters.
They tend to be dispersed over smooth grounds. Their eggs float near the sea surface,
and the larvae also inhabit surface waters. The species are caught both within national
jurisdictions and on the high seas.
In Australian waters, spiky oreo (Neocyttus rhomboidalis) are more abundant at
intermediate depths (600–800 m) and warty oreo (Alocyttes verrucosus) in deeper waters
(900–1 200 m). Both species are benthopelagic feeders feeding on salps, crustaceans, fish
Figure C4.3 shows the reported catches
of oreo dories NEI (not identified to species
level), the black oreo (Alocyttes niger), smooth
oreo dory (Pseudocyttus maculates) and spiky
oreo indicating catches between 15 000 and
20 000 tonnes in the Pacific in the last five
years. Up to 2001, species were recorded at an
aggregated level, and since then catches have
been reported for the species listed above.
As for many other species, management of
these fisheries on the high seas is challenging
because of a lack of data. Ageing data from
Australia and New Zealand indicate that the
maximum age for smooth is around 86 years,
and 153 years for black oreo (Stewart et al., 1995;
McMillan, 2008). Natural mortality for smooth oreo has been estimated at 0.063 per year, and
0.044 per year for black oreo. Estimates from
New Zealand indicates the MSY to be of the
order of 1.6 percent of B0 if the population is
not to be reduced to a biomass of less than 0.2 B0
(probability < 0.2) (Doonan and McMillan,
2006). For operational reasons, where they are
managed at all, smooth, black and spiky oreos
have been managed as a single stock with the
associate dangers this implies (Annala, Sullivan
and O’Brien, 1999).
|Figure C4.3 - Annual nominal catches of Oreo dories |
The alfonsinos (Beryx sp., Bericidae) have a
circumglobal distribution although they are
generally not present in the northeast Pacific. They
inhabit the outer shelf (180 m) and slope to at least 1 300 m depth, probably rising from the
bottom at night. Reported catches of this genus are mainly B. splendens and B. decadactylus.
Beryx splendens are caught in midwater trawls over shallower seamounts, underwater
ridges and on the slope edge between 300 and 500 m. The juveniles are pelagic. There is no
common agreement on the stock structure for alfonsino and contradictory information is
available supporting different hypothesis (ICES WGDEEP, 2010). Alfonsino are caught
both within national jurisdictions and on the high-seas.
Figure C4.4 shows that catches of alfonsinos have fluctuated widely, with high catches
at the end of the 1990s and the first decade of 2000. The highest catch was in 2003 (just
over 14 000 tonnes). Since then, catches have generally decreased and, in 2009, catches
of about 5 000 tonnes were reported. Highest catches are reported from the Pacific,
where this species constitutes one of the main target species in the trawl and gillnet
fisheries in the high seas areas of the Northwest Pacific (Bensch et al., 2009). Catches
are also reported from the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, although almost no catches have
been reported from the Indian Ocean in recent years. This low level of catch may also
be linked to national reporting restrictions which apply to fisheries operating with a
limited number of vessels.
The maximum recorded age for this species range from 9 years (Krug et al., 2011) to
23 years (Adachi et al., 2000; Froese and Pauly, 2011) and become sexually mature at
about 4 years of age. Natural mortality is estimated to be about 0.23. Thus, they offer
a greater prospect of sustaining the deep-sea fisheries that target them. Little is known
about the local area stock structure of these species, and it is for example believed that
the New Zealand fishery may be exploiting a wider South Pacific stock (Annala, Sullivan
and O’Brien, 1999).
|Figure C4.4 - Annual nominal catches of alfonsino |
Toothfish (Dissostichus spp.) of the family Notothenidae, have a circumpolar distribution
within Southern Ocean waters. Patagonian toothfish (D. eleginoides) are found around
southern South America, and Antarctic toothfish (D. mawsoni) occur in high latitudes
south of the Pacific region. The two species overlap between 60°S and 65°S, and both
occur to depths of 3 000 m. The northern limit for most populations of Patagonian
toothfish is 45°S, except along the coasts of Chile and Argentina where they may extend
north in deeper colder water. Significant populations of Patagonian toothfish exist in the
waters of, and adjacent to, the various sub-Antarctic islands and in the waters of Chile,
Argentina, Uruguay and Peru. Figure C4.5 indicates that most catches of toothfish have
been reported in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in recent years, with total reported
catches of about 10 000–12 000 tonnes since 2004.
The problem of IUU has been considerably
reduced in recent years. However, it still
remains a major concern in many regions.
Toothfish mainly fall under the management
responsibility of the CCAMLR (see Chapter
B16 for further information on toothfish).
|Figure C4.5 - Annual nominal catches of toothfish |
The armourheads belong to the family
Pentacerotidae and inhabit seamounts,
especially in the North Pacific but also in other
oceans. There are three species of armourhead,
the pelagic armourhead (Pseudopentaceros
richardsoni), the slender armourhead
(P. wheeleri) and longfin (P. pectoralis), but only
the pelagic armourhead is currently reported in
FAO catch data.
Figure C4.6 shows that reported catches of
pelagic armourhead have stayed quite low, with
a peak of reported catches in the Atlantic in 1991
of about 1 200 tonnes. However, historically,
substantial catches of pelagic armourheads
NEI (Pseudopentaceros spp.) were reported
in the late 1960s and early 1970s, reaching
almost 1.8 million tonnes in 1973. The slender
armourhead – often also referred to as pelagic
armourhead was the target of a large fishery in
the high seas of the North Pacific starting in
the late 1960s. At this time, vessels from Japan
and the then Soviet Union began trawling on
the Emperor Seamount chain and the Northern
Hawaiian Ridge. The total catch for the Soviet
vessels was unknown but was estimated to be
more than 133 400 tonnes in the period 1967–
1977. Between 1969 and 1977, the Japanese sent
from two to five trawlers a year to this area and
catches ranged from 22 800 to 35 100 tonnes
a year. Ninety percent of the catch was of
pelagic armourhead. Catches then fell to 5 800–
9 900 tonnes between 1977 and 1982.
Blue grenadier (hoki)
|Figure C4.6 - Annual nominal catches of pelagic armourhead |
Blue grenadier or hoki (Macruronus
novaezelandiae) is a benthopelagic macruronid
that usually lives near the bottom but forms
midwater aggregations for spawning. Large
adult fish generally occur deeper than 400 m,
while juveniles may be found in shallower water.
Midwater trawl fisheries target aggregations
near canyons that are often close to coasts in
areas of narrow continental shelves. Figure C4.7 shows the reported catches of these
species, which are mainly caught in the Pacific. Reported catches decreased from more
than 300 000 tonnes in 1998 to about 100 000 tonnes in 2009.
Knowledge of the stock structure for this species is often uncertain. Management
experience in at least some jurisdictions indicates that this resource can be sustainably
managed. In the major global fishery for this species, in New Zealand, the TAC has
changed from time to time as the size of the hoki stocks varied. The TAC in New Zealand
has fluctuated between 200 000 and 250 000 tonnes in earlier years, being reduced
gradually from the year 2000, down to 90 000 tonnes in 2007 and 2008 as the spawning
stock declined. This decline is also believed to have been influenced by ENSO-related
oceanographic events. Subsequent to this, the TAC has again increased to 130 000 tonnes
for the coming season as a result of the rebuilding of stocks in recent times.
|Figure C4.7 - Annual nominal catches of blue grenadier |
Deep-sea fisheries face many of the same management issues as coastal fisheries.
However, the great depths and distances from the coast at which marine living resources
are caught by these fisheries pose some additional scientific, technical and governancerelated
difficulties in their management. Some deep-sea species are widespread and can
be found in all major oceans. In other cases, the species may be specific to a region. In
both situations, management methods must address the vulnerability of the stocks to
In some fisheries that targeted deep-sea species, initial high catch rates decreased
rapidly as the low productivity of the species did not allow for sustainable harvest at the
initial levels of fishing effort, leading to closure of these fisheries (Clarke, 2001). Similar
to many shelf fisheries, deep-sea fisheries (depending on species targeted and gear used)
can catch considerable amounts of bycatch, including sharks. Little information is
currently available on bycatch from deep-sea fisheries because of the lack of tools and
procedures to obtain information in a consistent way. The potential effects of deepsea
fishing operations on deep-sea communities have also raised great concern and
debate globally. Some of these communities, such as coldwater corals and hydroids,
some sponge-dominated communities and seep or vent communities are comprised of
unique invertebrate or microbial species. Concern has also been raised for species and
ecosystems associated with the target species. The potential recovery time of affected
ecosystems can be great, although the consequences of impacts differ depending on
the fishing gear used, and these impacts can be reduced by use of appropriate fishing
Deep-sea fisheries, particularly those taking place in the high seas, and the potential
impact on fish stocks, biodiversity and critical habitats have recently been the focus of
much international debate. Although deep-sea fisheries in the high seas affect species
with diverse life histories and productivity rates, those that have raised the most concern
are fisheries that affect target or bycatch species with long lives and low productivity
and/or damage fragile habitats.
These issues have been discussed in various international forums, including COFI
and the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meetings in recent years. In 2006,
a UNGA Resolution (61/105) called on “States to take action immediately, individually
and through regional fisheries management organizations and arrangements (RFMO/
As), and consistent with the precautionary approach and ecosystem approaches, to
sustainably manage fish stocks and protect vulnerable marine ecosystem”. In 2009, the
UNGA reaffirmed the commitment to sustainable deep-sea bottom fishing practices
through the passage of Resolution 64/72.
Acting on the requests of UNGA Resolution 61/105, the Twenty-seventh Session of
COFI agreed in March 2007 that FAO should develop technical guidelines, including
standards for the management of deep-sea fisheries in the high seas, and these were
finalized in 2008 (FAO, 2009).
The FAO International Guidelines for the management of deep–sea fisheries in the
high seas are a voluntary international instrument. They provide management guidance to facilitate and encourage the efforts of States and RFMO/As towards sustainable
use of marine living resources exploited by deep-sea fisheries as well as advice on the
prevention of significant adverse impacts on deep-sea vulnerable marine ecosystems
(VMEs) and the protection of marine biodiversity that these ecosystems contain. The
FAO International Guidelines also establish a set of criteria to be used to determine if
an area is a VME and suggest management approaches for reducing adverse impacts.
This high level guidance have been taken up by RFMOs and States that are analysing
the guidance with the aim to make then operational in the context of deep-sea fisheries
in different regions.
As of January 2010, five RFMO/As and multilateral organizations had the legal
competence to manage discrete demersal fisheries in the high seas. These include the
Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR),
General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), Northwest Atlantic
Fisheries Organization (NAFO), North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC)
and Southeast Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO).
Mandate: Management; Scientific Advice.
Mandate: Management; Scientific Advice.
Mandate: Management; Scientific Advice.
Mandate: Management; Scientific Advice.
Mandate: Scientific Advice.
Other RFMO/As are being
developed and await ratification (Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement [SIOFA])
or are being negotiated, such as the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management
Organisation (SPRFMO) and the North Pacific Regional Fisheries Management
In areas where RFMO/As do not yet exist, some measures have been put in place by
flag States, the EU or the fishing industry (e.g. the Southern Indian Ocean Deepwater
Fishers Association). These measures cover their vessels or member States operating
in areas beyond national jurisdictions to address management and conservation on an
Despite the progress on improved management of these fisheries, there are many
aspects that are yet to be addressed before full implementation of the FAO International
Guidelines or the relevant UNGA resolutions can be achieved. An FAO workshop in
2010 (FAO, 2011) identified different impediments to implementation of the guidelines.
These barriers include: (i) support for the signature and ratification of RFMO/As
where they are in progress; (ii) specific assistance for developing countries in the
implementation of the FAO deep-sea guidelines; (iii) compilation of best practices and
development of relevant guidance on impacts and risk assessment, encounter protocols
and related mitigation measures; (iv) facilitation of opportunities for discussions among
fishing nations operating in the same area (particularly where no RFMO/A is in place);
(v) development of guidance on the use of the VME criteria; and (vi) facilitation of work
on deep-sea high seas stock assessments to ensure sustainable fisheries.
Source of Information
Marine and Inland Fisheries Service, Fisheries and Aquaculture Resources Use and Conservation Division. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department “Review of the state of world marine fishery resources”
FAO FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE TECHNICAL PAPER.
No. 569. Rome, FAO. 2011.
The bibliographic references are available through the hyperlink displayed in "Source of Information".ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
David Milton, Mario Rui R. Pinho and Yimin Ye are gratefully acknowledged for their
contributions and review of the earlier version of the chapter.