In deep at the United Nations

July 28, 2016 by No Comments | Category Fisheries, Marine Directorate general, Marine Directorate Science

Dr Francis NeatNext week, Marine Scotland scientist Dr Francis Neat (pictured right) will join the EU delegation to the UN in New York to discuss deep-sea fishing regulations and conservation in the high seas.

It’s a huge honour and as Francis explains “we rarely think too much about that part of the ocean that is beyond our national jurisdiction (more than 200 miles offshore), but the reality is that it is 50 % of the entire planet and we have every much a stake in it as any other country. The ‘high seas’ as this area is known belongs to everyone and no one, and as such is regulated under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Much of the high seas are deep seas and in the last decade, the UN has been debating problems with deep sea fishing and its impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs), such as seamounts and coral reefs. A series of UN resolutions were passed calling on states and regional fisheries management organisations to better manage their fisheries and protect VMEs. This has resulted in a transformation of how the high seas are now managed.

Marine Scotland Science (MSS) has been at the forefront of providing data and advice on these issues in the north-east Atlantic through the Working Group on Deepwater Ecology (WGDEC) of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea ICES). I first participated in WGDEC ten years ago and was elected chair in 2010. During my 3 year tenure as chair, several areas of the NE Atlantic were closed to protect VMEs, including an area identified during a Scotia survey. Around the same time the European Parliament (EP) was debating whether a ban on trawling below a certain depth should be introduced. This debate rumbled on with environmental organisations and the fishing industry often at loggerheads and an overall failure to agree on what such a depth limit should be. Last year MSS, together with Glasgow University, published a paper reporting results obtained from MRV Scotia surveys that provided crucial evidence for a trawling depth limit of between 600-800 m. This received considerable attention at the time, from publications such as the Economist,  and on June 30th 2016 the EP finally agreed to put forward an 800 m depth limit to trawling, with the intention that this will finally become law by the end of the year.

On August 1st and 2nd 2016 the UN meets again to discuss progress on the implementation of its resolutions. As a scientific expert in this area I was invited by the European Commission to join the EU delegation to the UN and participate in this meeting in New York. I was honoured to accept and will be on my way there next week. It’s a once in lifetime opportunity and very satisfying to think that the work we do at Marine Scotland is internationally respected and underpins scientific advice for issues of global importance.”

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