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 11,160 new VME presence records and 3,985 absence records were submitted and uploaded into the VME database. Following decisions at WGDEC 2020, a VME Data QA sub-group was initiated to undertake a quality control review of new data submissions in advance of the WGDEC meeting, affording more time for WGDEC to focus on other ToRs during the meeting. The QA sub-groupsuccessfully reviewed all new data submitted, allowing timely re-submission by data providers before the meeting commenced. The group also identified some changes to the VME data call that would improve the quality of data being ingested into the VME database, such as changes to the obligations to complete specific VME data call fields.
All new QA’ed data submissions and outputs of the VME Weighting algorithm, displaying the likelihood of VME presence (VME Index) and confidence, were mapped to support ICES in providing advice on the distribution of VMEs in the North Atlantic. 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.Following an additional ICES advice request from NEAFC, the group also reviewed all available VME data from the Josephine Seamount, and a recommendation was made that a closure proposal advised by ICES in 2013 shouldbe re-considered. No other closure proposals were recommended this year.
A further objective this year was to review the VME weighting algorithm, developed by WGDEC in 2015, to identify potential development options. The use of the weighting algorithm outputs for the WKEUVME workshop in 2020 raised some concerns about its applicability for use within ICES advice. The work this year therefore considered two options to facilitate wider use of the VME Index. Trials were undertaken during the meeting, and thepreferred approach was to build a complementary index of the likelihood of VME presence based on weight of evidence, whilst maintaining the original index in its current form. This work will be furthered in 2022.
Following updates to the list of VME indicator taxa made in 2019 and 2020, the group also considered the challenges of identifying when VME indicator taxa from seabed samples from research surveys could be defined as a ‘VME’ for submission to the VME database. Summaries were provided of known methods used by data suppliers in identifying VME from seabed imagery data.
Finally, the group considered the work undertaken by the Working Group on Marine Habitat Mapping (WGMHM) on the use of predictive habitat models (PHMs) in ICES advice, following the Feb 2021 workshop (WKPHM). A set of next steps were proposed to support continued progress, with a specific recommendation for a second workshop to refine the criteria established during WKPHM; identify the broader questions about how PHMs could be used in ICES advice; and trial run use of models for ICES advice to identify key issues to resolve before furthering this work through an ICES benchmarking process.
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