Protecting such vulnerable assemblages is a regional concern, and bottom trawling and deep-sea netting are therefore forbidden around the Azores. Commercial bottom fisheries are instead dominated by long-lining limited to grounds located outside a 3 nautical mile buffer, demarcated from the islands shoreline.

Analysis of the by-catch composition of the longline fishery revealed that cold-water corals can also be damaged and caught by the gear used, raising concerns about the extent of these impacts and the potential for recovery of such long-living communities. Studies are now in place to estimate the intensity of fishery impacts and their results will help resource managers and scientists to better protect these ecosystems.

In an action that greatly enlarged the network of marine protected areas (MPAs) around the Azores, the Government of the Azores has recently created four new deep-sea marine protected areas. These are aimed specifically at the conservation of vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs and gardens and sponge aggregations, but also deep-sea fishes. These protected areas are all part of the OSPAR network of MPAs and include the Sedlo Seamount, and three high seas areas claimed by Portugal under UNCLOS: Altair and Antialtair seamounts and an extensive sector of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge north of the Azores.

Text and images by Fernando Tempera and Marina Carreiro-Silva (IMAR/DOP, University of Azores).