Report of the FAO/NPFC Workshop on Protection of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems in the North Pacific Fisheries Commission Area: Applying Global Experiences to Regional Assessments
The subject matter of this workshop was protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VME) in the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC) Area, with the aim of applying global experiences to the regional assessments and to build capacity to protect VMEs and related management issues in the North Pacific Ocean region. The workshop focused on the mitigation of bottom fishing impacts on VMEs within the framework of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas. Workshop participants identified historical and existing seamount fisheries that impacted benthic VMEs, with a particular focus on corals. Participants reviewed actions that have already been taken to mitigate VME issues associated with the two areas of seamount fisheries: the Emperor Seamount area of the northwestern Pacific Ocean, and a few seamounts off Canada in the high seas of the northeastern Pacific Ocean. The workshop brought together global experts to advise on methodologies and options for protecting VMEs. For the Emperor Seamounts, it was determined that significant adverse impacts (SAIs) on corals had occurred in the past, are likely still occurring, and likely to continue to occur if the fisheries continue with the current regulatory mechanism. Since coming into force in 2015, NPFC has established a limited fishery for bottom fish that likely will have SAIs on corals. However, new research reported at this workshop suggest that some meaningful signs of recovery to damaged areas on the Emperor seamounts were detected in the 30-40 year time scale. While the northeast Pacific seamount fishery is very small, the risk of possible SAIs on corals remains. Considering this, the workshop suggested future requirements and support mechanisms for the Commission, including data collection, scientific observer systems, fishing footprints, taxa of VME indicators, impact assessments, exploratory fishing protocols, mapping coral distributions, spatial area management, research planning, encounter protocols, and performance reviews. A spatial management process was suggested and a set of recommendations was made for the Small Scientific Committee (SSC) on VMEs to review for its Scientific Committee and the Commission.