Advice explainer - fishing footprint and vulnerable marine ecosystems

We explore some of the key points in the advice published today on mapping the fishing footprint in relation to locations of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) in the deeper waters of the northeast Atlantic.
Published: 28 June 2018

​​​​​​​​​​​What does the advice say?

The advice, describes bottom fishing activity (footprint) across the EU waters of the northeast Atlantic between 2009–2011 at three categories of depth – 200-400 metres, 400-800 metres, and 800 metres and more – and shows where this footprint overlaps with the locations of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs). VMEs are deep-sea habitats such as cold-water coral reefs and clusters of deep-sea sponges that are particularly susceptible to damage by bottom-contacting fishing gear.

It also presents a method for identifying areas that are either known to contain vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) or are likely to contain them.

It is envisaged that this information forms a good science basis for management decisions on bottom fishery closures under an EU Regulation to protect these vulnerable deep-sea habitats.

Why is 2009–2011 the timeframe used?

A reference period was used from before the point at which the EU Regulation was on the table, meaning fishing was taking place without knowledge of potential future restrictions. ICES therefore collated vessel monitoring system (charting boat position, speed, time) and logbook data (charting catch and effort) over this period.

In what areas are the vulnerable marine ecosystems?

VMEs are recorded at depths of up to around 5000 metres. Taking into account that the Regulation specifies 400 metres, the advice presents VMEs deeper than 200 metres. Previous advice to the EU has been provided for shallower water habitats, where two indicators were proposed for assessing impact in response to fishing pressure. 

Does the advice prioritize areas for closure?

ICES is unable to do so at present as prioritization requires decisions from managers on definitions of terms. The advice provides options, however, on the likelihood of VMEs being present and the levels of scientific confidence. Managers can, if they wish, use these options to prioritize areas to manage bottom fishing. These options are mapped in the advice for an example area off northwest Scotland and the Rockall Bank, alongside the different fishing footprint depths.

What happens next?

Not all national data on fishing activity or known VME locations was received for addressing this request. It is hoped that repeating the process will result in more complete data and a clearer picture.

About ICES advice

ICES advice is issued in response to requests from member countries and intergovernmental organizations. The fishing footprint advice was requested by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE)

Final advice is always agreed upon by our Advisory Committee (ACOM), consisting of scientists appointed by all our 20 member countries.

All steps of the advisory process are open to observers from competent authorities . Observers from stakeholder organizations are also invited to all workshops, peer review groups, and to follow the deliberations.

Read more about our advisory process.​

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​Black coral on Anton Dohrn Seamount; photo: Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)​

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Advice explainer - fishing footprint and vulnerable marine ecosystems

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