ICES has advised NEAFC that the current bottom-fishing closure areas should remain in place to protect VMEs

ICES has advised NEAFC that the current bottom-fishing closure areas should remain in place to protect VMEs

The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has advised NEAFC that the current bottom-fishing closure areas are still appropriate to protect Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs).

ICES says that the advice should remain in place based on cumulating evidence of VME occurrence in these areas. They say that reopening such closures to bottom fishing would prevent adverse impacts on VMEs, in particular as evidenced for mobile bottom-contacting gear.

ICES was requested by the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) to consider whether significant adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) are still considered likely in the closed sub-areas (a) – (m):

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(a) Northern MAR Area;

(b) Middle MAR Area (Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone and sub-Polar Frontal Region);

(c) Southern MAR Area;

(d) Altair Seamount;

(e) Antialtair Seamount;

(f) Hatton Bank 1;

(g) Rockall Bank;

(h) Logachev Mounds;

(i) West Rockall Mounds; 

(j) Edora’s bank;

(k) Southwest Rockall Bank;

(l) Hatton-Rockall Basin; and

(m) Hatton Bank 2.

ICES says that new evidence of VME presence was observed in five of the 14 NEAFC bottom fishing closure areas. ICES also advised that the NEAFC closures for VME protection which are located outside existing bottom fishing areas provide protection from the potential impacts of exploratory fishing.

NEAFC Recommendation 19 2014 (as amended), on the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the NEAFC Regulatory Area, includes regulations prohibiting bottom-fishing activities in the areas (a)–(m) under review, according to Article 5. According to Article 10, second paragraph, the closures shall be in force until 31 December 2022.  Before that time, the measure shall be reviewed by NEAFC with the intention of extending the period that the closures are in force, unless the review concludes that the continued application of either the measure or parts of the measure are not required.

Since 2017, there was a total of 175 new records of VME presence and no VME absence records within existing NEAFC RA bottom-fishing closure areas (ICES, 2022a). These new evidence of VME presence was observed in five of the 14 NEAFC bottom-fishing closure areas (Table A1). Cumulating evidence of VME presence, together with no evidence of VME absence, indicates that current bottom-fishing closure areas remain appropriate to protect VMEs. ICES advises that all of the current NEAFC RA bottom-fishing closures remain closed to support the protection of VMEs.  The reopening of such closures to bottom fishing, in particular as evidenced for mobile bottom-contacting gear, would present a risk of significant adverse impacts to VMEs.

ICES considered the scientific evidence available for each of the 13 NEAFC bottom-fishing closure areas since the last review (ICES, 2017). Each area was considered in relation to (a) the scientific basis for the original closure, (b) new evidence of VME presence and VME absence, and (c) implications of the new evidence regarding the adequacy of the closure for the protection of VMEs.

ICES is aware that new data on VME occurrence exist for some of the NEAFC bottom-fishing closure areas. The provision of these data to ICES will strengthen the evidence base for future advice. Data acquisition within NEAFC bottom-fishing closures is only reliant on dedicated sampling effort, which may explain comparatively limited VMEs reporting for these areas. ICES notes that methods to estimate VME absences within existing closure areas need to be further investigated.

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ICES advises NEAFC that bottom-fishing closures should remain in place

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