A consultation has been launched on an updated Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland's waters vmes

The European Commission has launched a public consultation impacts of bottom fishing gears in the high seas on VMEs

European Commission Seeks Public Input on Safeguarding Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems

The European Commission has launched a call for evidence and public consultation to gather feedback on measures aimed at protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) from the adverse impacts of bottom fishing gears in the high seas.

Stakeholders and the public are encouraged to participate in this initiative, which will remain open for input until 05 February 2024.

VMEs are classified as sensitive areas that serve as habitats for a diverse range of marine life, including slow-growing and long-lived species in deep waters. It is believed by some that the use of bottom fishing gears can jeopardise the integrity of these ecosystems, impairing their natural productivity over the long term.

In 2008, the European Union implemented a regulation specifically addressing the protection of VMEs in the high seas from the adverse impacts of bottom fishing gears. The European Commission is presently evaluating the effectiveness of this regulation and is actively seeking feedback to refine and enhance this crucial initiative.

The Commission extends an invitation to all stakeholders, including representatives from the fishing industry, non-governmental organisations, academic and scientific communities, as well as citizens, to contribute their perspectives on the regulation’s performance.

The primary goal of this public consultation is to collect information and experiences related to the implementation of the initiative. The Commission says it values the insights of stakeholders and aims to conduct evidence-based assessments of the regulation’s effectiveness. The consultation may also identify areas for potential amendment to the current regulation or the necessity for new initiatives.


Importance of Protecting Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems


VMEs are vital contributors to the health of the ocean, offering significant benefits:

  1. Habitat Diversity: VMEs provide crucial habitats for a wide variety of marine life and play a role in climate regulation. Biodiversity hotspots, including seamounts, canyons, coral reefs, and hydrothermal vents, thrive in these areas.
  2. Biodiversity Hotspots: VMEs attract large numbers of fish and plants, hosting organisms such as sponges, corals, and anemones that are slow-growing and long-lived.
  3. Climate Regulation: These ecosystems contribute to climate regulation and are integral to maintaining the health and balance of the ocean.

Physical disturbances caused by bottom trawling, hydrocarbon prospection, laying of submarine cables, waste dumping, or over-exploitation can result in severe damage to VMEs, requiring centuries for full recovery.


Background and Regulation Framework

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly established conditions for bottom fishing in the high seas through Resolution 61/105. The resolution called for the adoption of conservation measures to protect VMEs from the significant adverse impacts of bottom fishing or to cease bottom fishing in areas where VMEs were likely to occur.

In response, the European Union enacted a specific piece of legislation in 2008—the Council Regulation (EC) N° 734/2008—addressing the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas from the adverse impacts of bottom fishing gears, also known as the ‘VME Regulation.’ The regulation establishes a framework requiring fishing vessels to obtain authorisation before operating in designated areas, ensuring responsible and sustainable fishing practices.

The European Commission believes that by safeguarding VMEs in the high seas, the European Union is actively contributing to the promotion of a healthy and sustainable ocean for the benefit of future generations. The ongoing public consultation underscores the commitment to inclusive decision-making and the preservation of marine biodiversity.

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