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Last month, scientists from all parts of the Mediterranean Sea gathered at the 18th session of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), the regional body responsible for fisheries management in the Mediterranean Sea. The event once again centred on the bleak situation of Mediterranean fishing resources, in which 97% of stocks assessed are overfished and/or not sustainably exploited.

Oceana participated as an observer, advocating the use of best available scientific advice to put an end to overfishing and the continuing deterioration of marine resources and the environment. The identification of new Fisheries Restricted Areas (FRAs) and measures to protect Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) is central to this effort.

Scientists endorsed the need for three Fisheries Restricted Areas in the Strait of Sicily to protect the juveniles of heavily depleted commercial stocks, such as hake, based on a proposal developed and submitted by Oceana in 2015. These FRAs should be framed within a multi-annual management plan which along with additional measures identified by scientists should aim at rebuilding stocks during the next four years and ensure the protection of juveniles, allowing them to reproduce at least once in their lifetime.

GFCM scientists also backed initial steps to advance the protection of VMEs – such as deep-sea coral reefs and sponge gardens – in the Mediterranean. GFCM lags far behind other Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) in fulfilling its legal obligations to protect VMEs, under United Nations General Assembly Resolutions. GFCM has few such measures in place, and no new VME-related measures have been adopted in the Mediterranean since 2006. Moreover, despite many fished species being dependent on VMEs to complete their life-cycle, they remain under threat from enduring bottom-contact fishing activities. Oceana urges GFCM Members to begin developing the necessary measures for VME protection in the Mediterranean Sea, starting immediately with the basic steps: to develop a reliable list of VME indicator species and start collecting data about where they occur.

Progress was made at the meeting but action speaks louder than words. The final decisions will be made at the 40th GFCM Commission in late May. Oceana calls on the relevant Mediterranean states to adopt all the necessary management measures needed to halt overfishing in the Mediterranean and preserve its vulnerable ecosystems before it’s too late.

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