NAFO meeting wins praise and criticism –

NAFO meeting wins praise and criticism Published:  01 October, 2007

The EU, among others,put forward proposals to reduce environmental impact, but they were not adopted

WWF today welcomed decisions made to recover cod off Newfoundland and Labrador at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) Annual Meeting last week in Lisbon, Portugal.

“For some time, NAFO has been talking about protecting habitats and recovering depleted stocks,” said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Vice President, Atlantic, WWF-Canada. “With last week’s decision, the organisation has begun to move from words to action by committing to conservation measures that, when implemented, will make a real difference on the water.”

He said these measures represent a commitment to a modernised fisheries management regime that includes protecting marine ecosystems and adopting precautionary approaches. This commitment was accepted by a consensus of contracting parties of NAFO in their newly revised Convention.

NAFO countries committed to a southern Grand Banks cod recovery strategy, which includes an immediate bycatch reduction target of 40%. Bycatch, the unintended harvesting of non-targeted species, is the single most important factor in the continued decline of cod stocks. As a consequence, current cod stocks are now roughly 6% of their historical abundance.

In addition, NAFO has committed to immediately “freeze the footprint” on the southwest slope of the Grand Banks (in an area known as NAFO Division 3O) by banning all bottom fishing activities in depths between 800m and 2000m. This is an initial step in a process that will see NAFO identify vulnerable habitats such as those containing corals over the next year and develop measures for their protection. It is anticipated that additional measures will be implemented at next years’ annual meeting, held next September in Spain.

“We are very encouraged with the measures undertaken last week as they have met most of WWF’s conservation expectations,” continued Rangeley. “These are critically important steps that will take hard work and goodwill in order to succeed. We look forward to working with NAFO and all its contracting countries in the future to continue to restore the Grand Banks ecosystem, so that those nations and individuals that have relied on its resources can continue to do so in the future.”

But NAFO has also been accused of failing to agree to comprehensive protection of cold-water corals and other vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems on the high seas of the Northwest Atlantic.

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) called on NAFO and other regional fisheries management bodies to urgently protect highly vulnerable and unique deep-sea ecosystems such as seamounts, cold-water corals and hydrothermal vents from the destructive impact of bottom fishing. The NAFO meeting recognised that these types of ecosystems are likely to be found throughout deep-sea areas in the Northwest Atlantic at depths targeted by high seas bottom trawl fleets.

“We are deeply disappointed that NAFO did not reach agreement for comprehensive protection for deep-sea ecosystems,” said Matthew Gianni of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC). “Cold-water corals, sponge fields, and other habit forming deep-sea species are extremely vulnerable to bottom fishing, in particular bottom trawling, and will continue to be destroyed unless or until NAFO takes real action.”

Both Canada and the European Union, with support from the United States, put forward proposals that would require countries to conduct environmental impact assessments of bottom fishing activities and close areas where cold-water corals and other sensitive deep-sea species are likely to be found on the high seas, but these were not adopted.

NAFO parties include the European Union, Canada, the United States, Norway, Iceland, Russia, Korea and Japan. They were amongst the most active participants in the UN GA negotiations in 2006. Russian and European Union fleets dominate the high seas bottom trawl fisheries in the region, with Spain, Portugal and Estonia taking the bulk of the EU catch.

DSCC is a coalition of over 60 organisations worldwide working to protect deep-sea biodiversity. is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.