North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission fails to protect cold-water reefs and seamounts
The meeting’s decision to postpone, by another year, further action to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) on Rockall and Hatton Banks and Josephine seamount from destructive fishing is noted with dismay and serious concern by WWF and other environmental organizations. This particularly applies to the proposed closure of Josephine seamount, an area of 20,000 square km hosting fragile deep sea communities and the only marine protected area (MPA) in areas beyond national jurisdiction in the North-East Atlantic where bottom trawling is still permitted and going on, according to WWF’s analysis.
According to United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) such as NEAFC are obliged to close existing fishing areas where VMEs including seamount ecosystems, cold-water coral reefs and coral gardens are known to occur. On that basis, NEAFC had been advised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to act. But ICES advice was sadly ignored due to national interests of the coastal state Portugal in the continental shelf of the area. Josephine seamount had been declared as an MPA by Environment Ministers under the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic in 2010 as well as by the coastal state Portugal, with a strong commitment to protect its natural values in cooperation with the international community. The opportunity to do so swiftly and to prevent further loss of deep sea marine biodiversity was missed once more at the NEAFC annual meeting this year.