International Council for the Exploration of the Sea
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Advice on areas where Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are known to occur or are likely to occur in EU waters

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posted on 2024-01-25, 08:07 authored by ICESICES

This ICES advice must be read in conjunction with the EU VME Advice Data Products (in a zip file) published together with this advice:

ICES presents five spatial management scenarios for vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) protection in EU waters based on new and updated information from 2022 on areas where VMEs are known to occur or likely to occur, as well as on new and updated information on mobile bottom-contacting gear (MBCG) fishing activity up to and including 2021. Four of the five scenarios are updated from previous ICES advice (ICES, 2021a), while the fifth is new. 

In this advice, the total number and areal extent of VMEs protection polygons ranged 102–115 and 9 752–14 885 km2 among scenarios. Relative to existing EU closures for VMEs protection, management scenarios based on 2022 data result in a 15–17% increase in the total area identified as VMEs protection polygon in EU waters of the Celtic Seas ecoregion and a 49–62% increase in the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast ecoregion.

Changes to VME polygons relative to previous advice (ICES, 2021a) include additions, expansions, and reductions in the number, size, and shape of VME polygons. These changes are based on new/updated evidence of VME occurrence and/or on new/updated evidence of MBCG fishing intensity, resulting in a change in risk of further significant adverse impacts (SAIs) to VMEs where they co-occur with fishing activity. 

For this advice, ICES was requested to use the VME habitat and indicator taxa listed in Annex III of the EU Deepsea Access Regulation (DSAR), Regulation (EU) 2016/2336 (EU, 2016), on fishing for deep-sea stocks. ICES suggests that Annex III be updated to include the VME habitats, subtypes, and VME indicator taxa identified in ICES 2021a to ensure consistency with the criteria for identifying VMEs in the FAO guidelines (FAO, 2009).

ICES advises that, once an area has been closed for VMEs protection, this area should remain protected until reliable evidence of VMEs absences is available and/or bottom fisheries can be managed to prevent further SAIs on VMEs.


Published under the auspices of the following ICES Steering Group or Committee

  • ACOM


ICES Advice: Recurrent advice

Recommended citation

ICES. 2023. Advice on areas where Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are known to occur or are likely to occur in EU waters. In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2023. ICES Advice 2023,