Working group paper WG-EMM-2022/15 (see Annex) was presented at this year’s EMM Meeting. The paper gives detailed information regarding the discovery of a breeding colony of notothenioid icefish (Neopagetopsis ionah, Nybelin 1947) of so far unprecedented extent observed in the southern Weddell Sea (Purser et al., 2022) during RV Polarstern expedition PS124 from February to March 2021 (Hellmer & Holtappels, 2021).
The Working Group’s discussion centred in particular on the fact that, despite its unprecedented size, the N. ionah spawning site was only discovered accidentally. The Working group considered it likely that other undiscovered spawning sites of similar importance (also of other icefish species) exist in the Weddell Sea and in other regions in the CCAMLR Convention Area. In this context, the Working Group stressed the need for further research to ensure the protection of clearly defined spawning sites in terms of conservation and stock management.
The Working Group recommended that the recently discovered N. ionah spawning site should be protected in a timely manner (WG-EMM-2022, para 3.28), and noted that this protection in the immediate term could be provided by expanding CM 22-06 on VMEs to include fish nesting areas, or through the creation of a separate conservation measure dedicated to the protection of essential fish habitats.
Finally, the EMM Working Group invited interested participants to continue the discussion on the protection of important areas such as this N. ionah spawning site in the e-group "Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems Review".
In the VME e-group (status: September 7, 2022), initial suggestions were provided concerning the definition of benthic fish spawning sites and the design of protection zone of such sites. Furthermore, it was discussed how benthic fish spawning sites can be detected and potential effects of the survey method, incl. the sampling gear used (e.g., incidental detection by longlines vs. systematic surveys with video camera system), on the delineation of benthic fish spawning sites.
This paper was also submitted to WG-FSA-2022 to be presented under agenda item 6.3 "Management of VMEs and habitats of particular concern".