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PRECAUTIONARY APPROACH WORKING GROUP

The Working Group convened on Wednesday afternoon, initially under the Chairmanship of Satya Nandan, who said that there appeared to be general acceptance of the Precautionary Approach, but that the particularities needed to be worked out. He suggested that the Working Group elaborate by considering the addition of an annex to the negotiating text and that the Working Group should not reiterate political views. Because of a simultaneous meeting of the informal he appointed Vice Chairman Andres Couve (Chile) as Chairman of the Working Group.

The initial speaker said the Precautionary Approach was a difficult issue and represented a "mixed bag". He noted that the Working Group was not strictly a scientific meeting. There was a need to develop a debating structure for the meeting to proceed. The basic issue was the state of stocks, especially multispecies. He suggested that for successful management, it had to establish a series of reference points: how much information was known; what the "Biological Reference Points" (BRP) might be; and what sort of management effort might be the most appropriate. On the BRP he felt there was a need to reflect on the MSY discussion paper, because the MSY is no longer a valid management target.

Another delegate proposed tabling an alternative paragraph 5 of the Chair's negotiating text by incorporating and expanding upon the FAO approach. He felt there was a need to adopt an ecosystem approach, identify pre-management thresholds, recovery programmes consistent with recovered productivity, and that new fishing grounds required cautious development, to maintain the sustainability of new stocks.

One delegate referred to document L.22 and suggested that discussion should include what might constitute BRPs, but the Working Group should not prejudge the forthcoming discussion on MSY. During the early part of the Working Group there seemed to be some reluctance of States to participate in discussion, but the circulation of written alternative language eventually stimulated debate.

A distant water fishing (DWF) State suggested the Chairman's negotiating text was a satisfactory starting point for discussion and only a few minor amendments were needed. These included the need to define and elaborate on the migratory range of resources. Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration should be used to provide the exact text. If the word "moratorium" is used in any text, it should have qualifying parameters. There was a fear that the Precautionary Approach could be interpreted simply as a means to declare a moratorium without further qualification. The Chair asked for these amendments to be circulated in writing. Under paragraph 5 (e) in exploratory fisheries, a delegate suggested that to introduce safer fishing technology, industry incentives should be awarded.

Annex 2 in document L.11/Rev.1 was promoted by more than one delegation. In specific reference to "thresholds", the threshold needs to be based on the total biomass of the resource or the total biomass of the targeted stock. Delegates suggested that discussion of the Precautionary Approach was closely linked to the MSY concept.

Another delegate said it was necessary to make a distinction between the amount and the kinds of information the State may have in deciding what sort of "trigger" mechanisms might be the most beneficial to promote precaution. He said that the MSY had become the "holy cow" of UNCLOS and fisheries management, but it does not have the same status now as when first promoted. He tendered caution in rushing into agreement on BRPs because it would be unwise to enshrine them in the same manner as is the MSY concept.

One DWFS delegate felt that the Working Group was suggesting two separate threshold measures while another suggested there was a need to define the meaning of threshold. Another delegate felt there was a need to define the precautionary kinds of thresholds. He asked how it would be possible to balance increasing risks against costs. In response to the concern of the use of the word "moratoria", one coastal State suggested an alternative by establishing zero quotas rather than promoting the concept of moratoria.

With regard to the ecosystem approach to management, one DWFS recognized the importance of this emerging concept and shared the shift in that direction. On the question of the burden of proof, there was a need to clarify the meaning of this in a definitive form. A coastal State felt that while ecosystem management was wholly desirable, it may not be either practicable or attainable.

In reflecting on the MSY, the FAO representative said that because most fisheries management efforts are already beyond the MSY level, it might become a minimum standard for the re-building of depleted stocks. He said that there was a need to take into account the lifespan of fishing vessels, and that resources have to be managed whether or not they are affected by man or environmental factors.

The Working Group concluded its first session following a statement from an NGO who suggested that the Precautionary Approach is implicitly required in UNCLOS practices. The Chairman adjourned the Working Group after three hours of discussion.

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