Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are areas of the ocean floor where habitat-forming animals such as deep-sea sponges, stony corals, sea pens, sea fans, lace corals and black corals form three-dimensional underwater forests. Cold-water coral reefs, gardens of soft corals, and deep-sea sponge aggregations are examples of VMEs.
The European Commission has been taking measures to protect VMEs in deep waters. In September 2022, the European Commission adopted an implementing act closing 87 areas to all bottom fishing gears which represents 17% of the area between 400-800 metres depth of EU waters of the North-East Atlantic and 1.16% of the EU waters of the North-East Atlantic. The Deep-sea Access Regulation introduced conservation and management measures to protect deep-sea species and their habitats (VMEs).
The European Commission (EU) has requested ICES to advise on the list of areas where VMEs are known to occur or are likely to occur and on the 2009 FAO guidelines for the management of deep-sea fisheries in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The guidelines aim to ensure that deep-sea fisheries are managed in a way that is sustainable and protects vulnerable marine ecosystems.
ICES published advice this week on areas where VMEs are known to occur or are likely to occur in EU waters. Five spatial management scenarios are presented for VME protection in EU waters (based on new and updated information from 2022) in areas where VMEs are known to occur or likely to occur, as well as on new and updated information on mobile bottom-contacting gear fishing activity up to and including 2021. Four of the five scenarios are updated from previous ICES advice, while the fifth is new. In this advice, the total number and areal extent of VMEs protection polygons ranged from 102–115 and 9752–14885 km2 among scenarios.
This is the first recurrent advice for the EU with regard to the recent Deep-Sea Access Regulation (EU) 2022/1614 and it is published with user-friendly HTML interactive maps that allow readers greater accessibility to click on various information tabs, select and deselect layers, zoom in and out.
ICES provides recurrent advice in response to annual or recurrent requests from management bodies.
Read ICES advice on areas where Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are known to occur or are likely to occur in EU waters.
Deep-sea coral. Image: Fisheries and Oceans Canada.