May 02, 2008 18:19 ET

NAFO Must Take Action to Protect Vulnerable Marine Species and Habitats: WWF-Canada

Special meeting in Montreal will test NAFO's commitment to protect coldwater coral forests and other vulnerable areas off Canada's Atlantic coast

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--(Marketwire - May 2, 2008) - WWF-Canada is calling for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), and its 13 contracting parties to adopt a plan to protect vulnerable marine species and habitats, including coldwater coral forests, by December 2008, at its Intersessional Meeting next week in Montreal. Protecting corals and other species would bring the severely depleted Grand Banks one step closer to recovery.

In 2006, fishing nations from around the world agreed to implement the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution on Sustainable Fisheries (61/105), which calls on high seas fishing nations and regional fisheries management organizations, such as NAFO, to identify and protect vulnerable species and habitats by December 31, 2008.

"Failure to adopt a plan in Montreal would basically guarantee the UNGA December 2008 deadline will not be met, which is unacceptable", said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Vice President Atlantic, WWF-Canada. "The meeting represents an important opportunity to build on commitments to reform management practices. In the past two years, NAFO has taken initial steps in the right direction by redrafting flawed convention text, protecting some coral and seamount areas, and committing to developing a cod recovery plan."

To date, the species-by-species approach to setting quotas and managing fisheries has failed miserably, as almost half of NAFO-managed stocks are severely depleted and closed due to overfishing. Protecting vulnerable areas is an important step towards implementing a more holistic - or ecosystem - approach to managing fisheries, to which NAFO has committed through its new convention.

"We expect NAFO contracting parties to live up to their 2006 commitment, and agree to a plan for assessing the impacts of bottom fishing and protecting vulnerable areas in the high seas", concluded Rangeley. "Success in Montreal will be measured by the commitment of NAFO to identify vulnerable areas by September and to take action that will protect these areas by the December 2008 deadline. This is an opportunity to set a very significant precedent - one that will be ultimately measured by improved health of our oceans and prosperity of our fisheries."

Failure in Montreal will result in further degradation of the marine ecosystem through the impacts of poorly regulated bottom fishing. Drastic measures would then be necessary to reverse the loss of habitats and species.

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