Following specific requests, ICES has now issued four pieces of advice for North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) and the European Union (EU) on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) and their indicator species and elements as well as the suitability of buffer zones and threshold levels for longline fishing in the NEAFC Regulatory Area (see sidebar graphic) - a patch of the Northeast Atlantic and Arctic oceans stretching southeast from the southern tip of Greenland at 42°W.
In addition to the annual statistical update on various VMEs, part of which was the assessment of a list of indicator species for such ecosystems, this year's advice includes an explicit call for information on the occurrence of hydrothermal vents across the Regulatory Area. Hydrothermal vents, fissures in the seabed which spew out geothermally-heated and mineral-rich water, form centres of unique benthic communities.
Chair of the Working Group on Deep-water Ecology (WGDEC), Francis Neat, elaborated: "VMEs could be sponges or corals or, in this case, we had some interesting new habitats like cold gas hydrate seeps in the deep sea, which have species that are new to science. ICES is advising to close such areas to fishing."
In addition to the cold seep, there are five hydrothermal vent sites: four of them whose location has been precisely mapped and one, on the Rekjanes Ridge (or Mid-Atlantic Ridge), which is inferred due to its exact position being unknown. The advice document recommends that this site should be closed to bottom-contacting fishing gear due to the probable fragility of habitats and biota there; the other four sites were found to be deeper than 2000 metres and therefore unlikely to be affected by fishing activities.
Read ICES advice on VME indicators and hydrothermal vents.
The North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) Regulatory Area; image courtesy of NEAFC