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HIGH SEAS FISHERIES CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: MONDAY, 12 JULY 1993

Satya N. Nandan, the Chair of the UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, opened the second session of the Conference at 11:00 am. He commented that the participants at the first session of the Conference, held in April, had agreed on the organization of work of the Conference (A/CONF.164/3) and, thus, this session could address the substantive issues, beginning with three days of general statements. He added that he has prepared a list of substantive subjects and issues before the Conference (A/CONF.164/10) and that numerous countries and the FAO have submitted papers as well.

In his opening statement, Nandan stated that this Conference meets at a time when there is a continued pressure on marine fish resources and a downward trend in fish catches. While under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention the management of resources in the coastal zone is the responsibility of the coastal State, management on the high seas is a shared responsibility. He commented that there is a need for: the establishment of better fisheries management practices; a strong political commitment on the part of coastal and distant-water fishing States; accurate and timely data; research on monitoring and control of stocks; and enforcement of management measures. Flag States must honor their obligations under international law. Equally important is the need to address problems of non- contracting parties, the issue of new entrants into high-seas fishing, especially developing countries, and the need for effective dispute settlement. The issue before this Conference is not only the development of management measures, but also putting mechanisms into play that will restore depleted stocks. Management regimes should be harmonized without prejudice to State sovereignty. This Conference is timely due to: 1) the depleted state of many fish stocks is not only harmful to the marine ecosystem but also threatens the food supply; 2) the depleted state of fisheries affects the economic well-being of fishers and the fishing industry; and 3) the despair among States that believe the effort to secure high seas management is going nowhere.

AUSTRALIA: Richard Rowe stated that it is time for agreement on ways to effectively discharge the duty of States to cooperate in relation to high seas fisheries and the duty of flag States to control activities of their vessels on the high seas. A cornerstone for such action is the adoption of a precautionary approach in the management of high seas fisheries. There is also a need for accurate information from commercial fishing operations. There should be a basic obligation for all flag States to collect and share accurate and timely catch and effort data from their high seas fishing fleets. States should develop and promote the use of more selective gears and techniques used in high seas fisheries to ensure that catches are taken on an environmentally sustainable basis. He commented that the agreement relating to flagging of fishing vessels being developed under FAO auspices has the potential to address a vital area of action needed in high seas fisheries -- raising global standards of flag State control. Before moving to prescribe new mechanisms or principles upon which to conserve and manage high seas fisheries, the Conference should be prepared to look carefully and honestly at the reasons underlying the failure in existing institutions and at the areas in which they have been successful. The difficult questions to be addressed by this Conference include: (1) the duties and responsibilities of fishing States that are not members of a regional fisheries management regime; and (2) the way in which the conservation and management regimes for fisheries on the high seas and those inside EEZs should relate to one another.

EUROPEAN COMMUNITY: Mr. Almeida Serra, Director-General for Fisheries at the Commission of the European Communities, speaking on behalf of the European Community, stated that the EC supports responsible fishing as defined at the Conference on Responsible Fishing held in Canc´┐Żn, Mexico, in May, 1992, and the need for protecting the environment to ensure sustainable development as articulated at UNCED. The EC has already put into place an internal and external fisheries policy whose goals are the balanced and responsible exploitation of marine resources on a sustainable basis. To depart from the myth of unlimited freedom to fish, five principles need to be observed: conservation of marine resources should be based on scientific advice; protection of fisheries must take account of all factors influencing the state of the resource; in the absence of adequate scientific data, the precautionary approach can be an interim option; more selective fishing gear should be used; and, management and conservation measures must be realistic. The Conference should produce a collection of practical and technically feasible recommendations to serve as guidelines for cooperation among concerned States within regional and subregional organizations, The ultimate aim is conservation and management policies for the stocks that ensure rational, responsible and sustainable fishing.

PERU: Amb. Fernando Guillen stated that there needs to be a clear understanding of the legal framework of the Law of the Sea; however, its succinct provisions are not adequate to solve the problems related to high seas fisheries. Specific, comprehensive and binding rules are necessary. He emphasized that the freedom of fishing of the high seas is subject to the rights, duties and interests of coastal States. If the activities of distant fishing States conflict with coastal States, the rights of the latter must prevail. He pointed out three complementary criteria: (a) the consistency principle, where the measures adopted for the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks should be consistent with measures applicable within the EEZ; (b) the "no adverse effect" principle, where fishing activities in areas of the high sea adjacent to the EEZ should not have an adverse impact on the stocks in the EEZ; and (c) the precautionary principle, where in the absence of scientific certainty, precautionary measures should be adopted. He hoped for the adoption of an agreement that will solve this problem and put the necessary mechanisms in place. The purpose of this agreement should be to adopt jointly-elaborated rules on conservation measures, management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, supervision, monitoring and dispute settlement mechanisms.

CHILE: Andr‚s Couve, Under-Secretary for Fisheries, agreed that the Law of the Sea is an appropriate framework for negotiation on fisheries beyond national jurisdiction, but the Convention does not contain mechanisms for enforcement. Straddling and highly migratory fish stocks need an effective legal regime. The Japanese statement poses a difficult question: how can effective implementation be ensured through non-binding guidelines? He agreed with the Canadian statement that success depends on the binding nature of an international convention. The Conference will have to address the questions of supervision, the role of regional organizations, and cooperation mechanisms. The agreed text should reflect consensus on an international regime. New rules must be set up along the following governing principles: within the framework of the Law of the Sea Convention; in accordance with sustainable development, as highlighted in Agenda 21; with effective control by flag States over their vessels on the high seas; no negative impact on stocks sizes; conservation measures must take into account effects on related species; conservation measures must be based on the best scientific data available; preventive measures should be taken when species are at risk, even if the best scientific information is not available (precautionary approach); reflagging to avoid some of the provisions of the Law of the Sea should be prevented; regional organizations should be strengthened and include participation by all States; States should agree to dispute settlement provisions; and a regime for developing States.

CHINA: Jia Jiansan, Deputy Director of the Department of Aquatic Products, Ministry of Agriculture, said that the preservation, management and utilization of living marine resources should be carried out on the basis of equality between countries and mutual consultation. The Conference should guarantee the rational development and sustainable use of fish resources so that marine resources can continue to benefit humanity. Management of fish stocks on the high seas and in EEZs should be consistent with one another. As the two stocks are renewable resources, formulation of precautionary management measures should be based on sufficient, reliable scientific evaluations of marine living resources. Management measures include monitoring, supervision and the establishment of internationally recognized standards. The negotiations should result in recommendations to be submitted to the General Assembly.

CANADA: Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Ross Reid identified the failures of the Law of the Sea Convention, highlighted by the FAO report on the situation of high seas stocks. The mandate of this Conference is to identify the existing problems, consider means of improving fisheries cooperation and recommend proper courses of action to achieve sustainable development on the high seas, in accordance with the Law of the Sea. The high seas are a global commons, a new frontier of multilateralism. There is a need for environmental ethics and an increase in solidarity between States to avoid destruction of the resources through overfishing. The problem should be approached by considering fish as common property. Reid highlighted the consequences that overfishing on the high seas can have on coastal communities. Canada, he added, has committed mistakes in its management efforts but has always tried to set TACs at safe levels and to control its fleets. Major fisheries have been closed and will not be reopened until it is safe to do so. In these circumstances, overfishing outside the EEZ is intolerable. Because Canadian fishers are making sacrifices to rebuild depleted stocks, Canada calls for an effective international regime for conservation and management on the high seas. This regime should comprise reliable resource assessments, surveillance and control measures, and dispute settlement mechanisms that are compulsory and binding. To be effective, this new international regime will have to be binding. Whereas States may tailor their own arrangements, a convention must provide a safety net in case of disagreement. Reid recognized that developing countries have more limited infrastructure and that their ability to fulfill their obligations concerning high seas fisheries is dependent on their capabilities.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: The Deputy Prime-Minister of the Russian Federation, A. Zaveryukha, said that this Conference should look at the obligations of different States regarding the conservation and optimal use of stocks in open ocean areas, how cooperation can be strengthened, and what international recommendations can be put forth. He said that rational long-term cooperation should be initiated, taking into account the rights of and laws in coastal States and the Law of the Sea. Participants at this Conference must be ready to adopt decisions on a mandatory basis. Delegates should concentrate on: ways to strengthen the role of coastal States; how States can carry out activities, bearing in mind the conservation of fish stocks; and how to establish deadlines or time-frames.

NGOS: Matthew Gianni of Greenpeace and Sebastian Matthew, Executive Secretary of the International Collective in Support of Fish Workers (ICSFW), made a joint statement as NGO representatives. A number of NGOs recently negotiated a common fisheries statement for the Conference and so far 55 NGOs from 27 countries have endorsed it. The growing crisis in world fisheries has major implications for the livelihoods of fishworkers and their dependents, the health of the marine environment, and global food security. The FAO has classified virtually all commercially fished stocks as depleted, fully exploited or overexploited. Fisheries development programmes are largely directed toward short-term considerations. The NGO statement emphasizes the need for fisheries conservation, environmental protection, and respect for and recognition of the rights of small-scale, traditional, and indigenous fishworkers and fishing communities. It argues that a consistent management regime must apply throughout the range of both straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. An institutional mechanism to ensure global fisheries conservation could be a global fisheries conservation fund.

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