ICES/NAFO Joint Working Group on Deep-water Ecology (WGDEC)

The joint ICES/NAFO Working Group on Deep-water Ecology (WGDEC) collates new information on the distribution of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) for use in annual ICES advisory processes and the development of new methods/techniques to further our understanding of deep-sea ecosystems, and further suggests novel management tools to ensure human activities do not adversely affect them. This year, a total of 4609 new presence records and 181 absence records, were submitted through the ICES VME data call in 2020 and were included within the ICES VME database. This information was collated and mapped by WGDEC, to support ICES in providing advice on the distribution of VMEs in the North Atlantic. All presence records from the VME database were presented as outputs from the VME weighting system, showing the likelihood of VMEs being encountered on the seabed along with an associated confidence assessment. VMS data from NEAFC was analysed by the Working Group on Spatial Fisheries Data (WGSFD), and outputs were used by WGDEC to assess whether fishing activity was occurring in the vicinity of VMEs in the NEAFC Convention Area, to support ICES advice. Another objective this year was to further develop approaches for the inclusion of absence data and data from the OSPAR habitats database, into the ICES VME database. Absence data would add value to development of predictive habitat models for VMEs. However, some challenges with collection of absence data include the survey method used and associated spatial scales, where different approaches would mean data were not comparable. Furthermore, absence data should not be confused with ‘missing data’, which is particularly prudent for the deep sea where limited surveys have taken place. A series of criteria to be fulfilled for any submissions of VME absence data to the VME database were identified by the group. Methods to bring OSPAR records into the ICES VME database have been developed. However, the need to quality assure OSPAR data before it is transferred to the database is vital to avoid duplication of records already in the VME database. Additionally, further work needs to be done to encourage data providers to submit records to both the ICES VME and OSPAR databases to avoid the need for annual exchanges of data between the two. Due to restrictions of working remotely this year, further testing on the use of predictive habitat models for the provision of information on potential VME presence was not undertaken. However, WGDEC agreed that an intersessional benchmark workshop prior to WGDEC 2021 would provide a more effective forum to complete this work, with the aim of developing a set of criteria, against which new and existing models will be reviewed to determine appropriate standards for their use for future ICES advice. A final objective this year was to finalise the proposed changes to the list of VME habitats and representative taxa, for submission to the European Commission. Work undertaken during WGDEC 2019 and an intersessional sub-group was built upon, and proposed taxa were evaluated against the FAO criteria for the prevention of significant adverse impacts on VMEs and protection of the marine biodiversity. Proposals were drafted for hydrothermal vents and cold seeps, cold-water coral reefs, coral gardens, deep-sea sponge aggregations and sea pen fields. This list will be finalised intersessionally to include tube-dwelling anemone aggregations, stalked crinoid aggregations, xenophyophore aggregations and bryozoan patches.

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ICES (2020). ICES/NAFO Joint Working Group on Deep-water Ecology (WGDEC). ICES Scientific Reports/Rapports scientifiques du CIEM. 2 (62). 188pp..,

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