Workshop on the Occurrence of VMEs (Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems) and Fishing Activities in EU waters of the Outermost Regions (WKOUTVME)

ICES received a special request for information on the list of areas where Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are known to occur, or are likely to occur, and on the existing deep-sea fishing areas in EU waters of the Outermost Regions subject to the EU deep-sea access regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/2336). The nine Outermost Regions of the EU (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, Réunion Island, and Saint-Martin (France), Azores and Madeira (Portugal), and the Canary Islands (Spain)) have not previously been part of ICES deliveries. ICES has responded to this request by offering step-wise deliverables, with the first phase a scoping technical service (review) in the form of this workshop (Workshop on the Occurrence of VMEs (Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems) and Fishing Activities in EU waters of the Outermost Regions; WKOUTVME). WKOUTVME has laid the foundations for subsequent work which could deliver the coordinates of the list of VME locations, and of the fishing activity in the EEZs of the Outermost Regions. WKOUTVME reviewed results from an ICES metadata call, developed and disseminated questionnaires asking for information on VMEs and deep-sea fishing activities, collated open-source information on VMEs and fisheries, and drew on regional expertise through a hybrid meeting format. Given the broad geographic scope of the request, covering regions in the southeast North Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea and the Indian Ocean, the lists of deep-sea fish and VME Indicator species listed in Annex I and Annex III, respectively, of the deep-sea access regulation were not applicable. WKOUTVME compiled regionally-apposite lists for each of the Outermost Regions. Two VME habitat types (Annex III), Submarine Caves and Mesophotic Zones were identified, and all new VME Indicator Species were evaluated against the FAO criteria for identifying VMEs. Metadata tables were produced summarizing data identified for each region, recognizing that more information may be available. Summaries of the fishing activities in each region were pro-vided, and indicated low levels of deep-water fishing, that are nevertheless economically and culturally important. In some of the regions, a trawl ban, the most disruptive fishing activity acting on the seafloor, has been in place since 2005. The extent and quality of data available for the identification and mapping of VMEs in the Outermost Regions of the EU is highly variable between the regions. The Azores and Canary Islands provided valuable examples of well-structured and innovative methodologies and approaches that demonstrated what can be achieved through targeted research efforts. These regions were considered data rich and details of their approaches are provided as a resource for other regions where data was more limited. Knowledge gaps were greatest for Madeira, who were not represented at the meeting. A four-step data assessment framework was developed which considered data availability, type, resolution, and uncertainty. For each step different sampling and assessment methods can be utilized with increasing spatial resolution and complexity, resulting in increased confidence in identifying and delineating areas of VME. This, combined with a knowledge of where important fishing activities occur, along with gear-specific risk assessments, should enable future options to be considered for potential VME protection measures.

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ICES (2024). Workshop on the Occurrence of VMEs (Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems) and Fishing Activities in EU waters of the Outermost Regions (WKOUTVME). ICES Scientific Reports/Rapports scientifiques du CIEM. 6 (45). 213p..,

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