Exchange of Scientific Information First Step Towards Establishing a Mechanism for Sustainable Bottom Fisheries on Seamounts of the Northwest Pacific Ocean

Large catches of armorhead were recorded by Japan's trawl fishery on the Emperor-Northern Hawaiian Ridge Seamounts in the early 1970's. Trawling on the seamounts was initiated by the former Soviet Union in 1967. Since 1986, the U.S. has prohibited fishing on the Northwest and Southeast Hancock Seamounts inside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone to protect the depleted fish stocks. Japan's trawlers, and to a lesser extent vessels from Korea and Russia, still fish on nearby seamounts in international waters.

In most areas of the high seas, the harvest of fish stocks is governed by an intergovernmental Regional Fishery Management Organization (RFMO) with the authority to establish fisheries conservation and management measures. One area lacking such an arrangement for non-pelagic stocks (i.e., species other than tunas, billfishes, and ecologically associated species) is the northwest Pacific Ocean, where bottom-dwelling fish species are harvested on seamounts within international waters by Japan, Russia, and other countries.

In October and December, 2008, representatives of Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. (the Participating States) met in Tokyo, Japan, to exchange scientific information and consider measures to conserve marine resources on the Emperor-Northern Hawaiian Ridge Seamounts. [view map]  The intergovernmental meetings were part of an ongoing effort to develop management mechanisms that would ensure sustainable bottom fisheries on seamounts of the northwest Pacific Ocean. Despite biological and ecological linkages between marine fauna along the seamount chain, management measures developed and adopted by the Participating States would only pertain to areas of the high seas outside their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones.

The discussions focused on mitigating impacts of seamount bottom fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems and promoting sustainability of target seamount fish stocks, particularly those of Pacific armorhead Pseudopentaceros wheeleri and splendid alfonsin Beryx splendens. The Participating States exchanged seamount fisheries data, discussed a stock assessment for splendid alfonsin, and reviewed information on associated and dependent species caught in the seamount bottom fisheries. They also discussed the establishment of standards and criteria to identify vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) on seamounts and significant adverse impacts on VMEs and marine species.

Deep-water corals inhabiting the summits and upper slopes of the seamounts were considered the most likely component species of a potential seamount VME. To better assess the presence and extent of such a VME, participants exchanged and reviewed information on seamount bathymetry, locations of lost bottom trawl nets, bottom trawling corridors, locations of incidental capture of coral, observations of corals on remote seamounts, and records of the historic seamount coral drag fishery. Based on this information, each Participating State prepared a report assessing the impacts of its bottom fishing activities on VMEs and marine species and proposed interim measures to conduct these fisheries in a sustainable manner and mitigate any significant adverse impacts on potential VMEs. The reports are available online at the Web site http://nwpbfo.nomaki.jp/index.html.

The meetings were productive, but concluded without reaching full consensus on interim measures to conduct seamount fisheries sustainably and alleviate possible significant adverse impacts on potential VME's. The U.S. report proposed a list of interim measures to mitigate possible impacts, including a temporary zonal closure over the southeastern corner of Koko Seamount where pink coral Corallium secundum has been found. The U.S. also proposed a temporary closure of Colahan Seamount to fishing, a measure that would promote sustainable fisheries by enabling rebuilding of the fish stocks. The U.S. and other Participating States agreed on the advisability of suspending bottom trawling during the armorhead spawning season and reducing fishing mortality caused by the bottom trawl fishery. In addition, they proposed to evaluate the status of deep-water corals and conduct collaborative stock assessments of armorhead and alfonsin.

For more information contact: Robert Humphreys