At UN meeting, countries call for strengthening treaty to curb overfishing

20 March 2006

Faced with continuing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing that is severely depleting the world’s oceans of their fish stocks, countries represented at a United Nations meeting on the issue today called for new measures to strengthen a global treaty to manage fishing on the high seas.

“There is a wide consensus that the world’s marine capture fisheries are at a crossroads,” Nicholas Michel, the UN Legal Counsel, told the opening of a preparatory round of talks for a review conference of the 1995 Agreement for the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, to be held at the UN from 22 to 26 May.

“It is widely recognized that fisheries policy now has to balance short-term economic and social benefits with the need to ensure long-term sustainability of fishery resources,” Mr. Michel observed.

Participants at the meeting stressed that the treaty requires far more effective implementation, and that more countries need to ratify the treaty.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a recent report on the subject, said that certain fish stocks have “declined to the point where their commercial value has become insignificant,” while other stocks “have been so substantially reduced that their biological survival is seriously threatened.”

The report found that unsustainable fishing practices such as overcapacity, overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and destructive fishing techniques are threatening the world’s fisheries and as a result, almost three-quarters of the world’s fish stocks have been overexploited or depleted.

David Balton of the United States, the Chairman of the preparatory talks that will continue through this week, said the report confirmed the importance of the Agreement. “There is much more to be done,” he said.

Many countries voiced concern that while the treaty must not be reopened or renegotiated, better mechanisms are needed to implement and enforce the Agreement. Others stressed that since the treaty needed universal acceptance, the discussions had to address the concerns of countries that had not yet adopted the Agreement.

The treaty elaborates on the fundamental principle, established in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, that States should cooperate to ensure conservation and promote the optimum utilization of fisheries resources both within and beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone. The Agreement provides a framework for cooperation in the conservation and management of those resources.

In another development, 65 experts from across Europe gathered today at the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for a meeting on how to improve global fisheries databases as a test case for improved information exchange in other areas.

“Managing the world’s fish stocks is a major challenge both at present and in the future”, said Richard Grainger, FAO’s Chief of Fishery Information, Data and Statistics. “If successful, the project will help us to keep track of fisheries across the world by taking information from a wide variety of sources and providing us with rapid real-time information.”


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