Countries call for wider support for UN agreement to curtail high-seas overfishing

22 May 2006

Government representatives attending a conference in New York aimed at improving measures to preserve ocean fish stocks today called for more States to ratify a United Nations agreement aimed at reversing the dramatic declines seen in recent years.

Universal participation, participants said, was needed to halt rampant illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that had decimated fish stock. The decline in fish stocks was also attributed to the presence of too many government-subsidized fishing vessels trawling on the high seas.

The treaty, the 1995 Agreement Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, is considered a highly innovative international pact that sets strong standards for the conservation and management of valuable fish stocks.

Also known as the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, the treaty has been ratified by 57 States, but it is widely agreed that more need to join before it can reach its full potential.

“In the years since the Agreement entered into force, much has happened in the world’s fisheries, and the Agreement has played a powerful role in influencing these developments,” said the Chairman of the weeklong Conference, David Balton, the United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and Fisheries.

“This week’s meeting must generate ideas and commitments on ways to better address the status of these resources,” Mr. Balton said. “While the Conference has no mandate to amend the Agreement, it should consider a broad range of measures by which to strengthen its implementation.”

In the opening debate, various countries called for measures to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and for the establishment of regional fisheries management organizations in those areas in the high seas where no regulations are in place.

“We need what amounts to a temporary restraining order to protect our waters from destructive practices,” said the representative of Palau, Stuart Beck, noting that most of the ocean space was unregulated and lacked a governing fisheries management organization.

“These areas and resources are thus at the mercy of creeping distant water fishing fleets,” he said, adding that negotiations had begun for a South Pacific fisheries management organization and that this effort should also cover the North Pacific adjacent to Palau.

Asserting that the world fleet capacity was 250 per cent above sustainable fishing and was mainly constituted by “super-vessels” from developed countries, Carlos Duarte, the Brazilian delegate, called for a reduction of fishing capacity. Andres Couve of Chile, not a party to the Agreement, said that overfishing in unregulated waters outside its exclusive economic zone had caused the decline of many fish species in the area.

Wang Guangya of China, also not a party to the Agreement, said that it had implemented the provisions of the treaty through regional fisheries management organizations, and that it was now obtaining 67 per cent of its fish production from aquaculture.

Based on available data, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported that about 30 per cent of the stocks of highly migratory tuna and tuna-like species, more than 50 per cent of highly migratory oceanic sharks, and nearly two-thirds of straddling and other high seas stocks are overexploited or depleted.

The Conference is the first opportunity to formally review the Agreement since it entered into force in 2001. Participants are to assess the adequacy of the Agreement in conserving and managing the relevant stocks, as well as examine ways to strengthen the implementation of the Agreement’s provisions.

Issues to be addressed during the week include international cooperation, mechanisms for monitoring, control and surveillance, as well as the special needs of developing countries.


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