The FAO was mandated by the first substantive session to produce a document on the Precautionary Approach that could serve as a discussion document for delegates. Previously, the distant water fishing States had argued against precautionary management for fisheries because the precautionary principle management practices derived from issues of marine pollution and these could not be directly translated into fisheries management tools. They feared that without technical qualification, the precautionary approach could be interpreted as encouraging "moratoria". The FAO document (A/CONF.164/INF/8) outlined the confusion between Precautionary Approach and Precautionary Principles and established seven principle points: (1) the precautionary approach gives the benefit of doubt to the resource; (2) precaution is not new; (3) precautionary approach requires preventive action; (4) the need to agree to minimum standard, reference points and critical threshold while recognizing the potentially non-precautionary nature of the maximum sustainable yield (MSY); (5) quantitative criteria and standards required for precautionary ecosystem management; (6) fisheries must have an impact on the resources and the ecosystem if they are to play a role as a human life-support system; and (7) the precautionary approach requires substantial support from fishery research.
After delegates spoke to the FAO document, and to its presentation by Dr. Serge Garcia, the Chair convened the Working Group, and appointed Andres Couve (Chile) as Chair.
At the outset, one delegate said the Precautionary Approach was a difficult issue to address and represented a mixed bag of options, underscoring that the Working Group would not specifically be a scientific meeting. Delegates debated the value of considering the Precautionary Approach without specific reference to the FAO paper on Reference Points. Delegates recognized that MSY, defined in UNCLOS as the "holy cow" of fisheries management, now lacks status. Delegates reacted to suggestions of L.22, consisting of comments on precautionary management of fisheries, submitted by Sweden and L.11/Rev.1 submitted by the Like-Minded core group but they felt more comfortable taking the Chair's paragraph 4 of A/CONF.164/13 as a basis for negotiation. The circulation of alternative language from the US heightened debate, which focused on thresholds and moratoria; both unacceptable to the DWFS delegates. Ecosystem approach to management while desirable, may not be either practical or attainable. In consideration of the MSY concept, the FAO said that it might become a minimum standard for the re-building of depleted stocks in the future, but that other environmental factors such as pollution need to be taken into account. An NGO stated that the Precautionary Approach is implicitly required in UNCLOS practices.
A revised text on the precautionary approach was available for consideration in the second meeting of the working group. In tabling the revised text, Chair Couve noted that the text would eventually require a set of technical guidelines or Annex and suggested that Annex 2 of A/CONF.164/L.11/Rev.1 could be beneficially adopted. Many delegates expressed dissatisfaction that the revised text did not cater for the many divergent positions. In this second session, the interdependence between Biological Reference Points (BRP) and the Precautionary Approach was highlighted. The many diverging views caused Chair Couve to suggest the establishment of a working group within the Working Group if that might produce a consensus text. Moratoria remained a feature in the paragraph 5 Rev.1 and of concern to DWFS, as well as the absence of qualification of the term ecosystem. Precautionary thresholds remained of similar concern and while one DWFS did not oppose the concept of thresholds he preferred a discretionary approach, with threshold limits being set on a case-by-case, species-by-species basis. The Chair, recognizing the disparate views, said the revised text could provide the basis for stimulating a further revised text and urged delegates to respond individually or collectively with additional submissions on Friday morning of the first week.
An informal working group consisting of seven States, with additional written representation from three DWFSs, drafted a consensus text, which was passed to the Chair. The Chair, on resuming the third session of the Working Group, acknowledged the valuable contributions submitted and said the Bureau had tried to avoid using conflicting wording in Rev.2, which he regarded as being technically correct and balanced. Delegates remained disappointed with the balance of Rev.2, and one DWFS delegate voiced concern that the informal working group consensus text was not adequately reflected. The FAO said that if Rev.2 was read carefully delegates would see that many of the new concepts had been accommodated, and the Chapeau had been accepted in its entirety. One delegate suggested the revised text should go to the Plenary as a "proposal" from the Working Group. Delegates confirmed this idea, on the basis that some further modifications be made prior to its passage to Plenary.
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