UN conference considers measures to limit illegal fishing

24 May 2006

Increased controls over ports and fishing vessels that could reduce illegal fishing were proposed by several countries today at a United Nations conference that is reviewing a landmark conservation and management agreement on fish stocks.

Increased controls over ports and fishing vessels that could reduce illegal fishing were proposed by several countries today at a United Nations conference that is reviewing a landmark conservation and management agreement on fish stocks.

Stronger measures that have been put forward during the conference to combat illegal high-seas fishing include satellite tracking systems of fishing vessels, a stronger system of controls on vessels flying flags of convenience, and steps that would make it more difficult to off-load illegal fish catches in ports.

The initiatives were recommended during the first Review Conference of the 1995 Agreement Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, which is reviewing the adequacy of steps taken for the conservation and management of valuable fish stocks that cross between ocean areas under the jurisdiction of individual nations and the high seas.

“From what I've heard so far, not all is well with the implementation of the Agreement,” said David Balton of the United States, who is chairing the Conference. Despite progress in combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, he said, “the bad actors in ocean fisheries remain in business.”

Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing continued both within the zones under the jurisdiction of regional fisheries management organizations and on the high seas, he said. “It is a problem affecting all fisheries and all regions. At the ministerial level, we have heard many calls for action. Today I would like to challenge this group to see what else we can do.”

Kjell Kristian Egge of Norway called illegal fishing a “huge organized business” whose profit depended on gaining access to legal markets through landing catches in ports. He said the failure of flag States to control the operations of vessels flying their flag was at the core of the problem, and enhanced port State control was crucial, including through the inspection of documents, fishing gears and catch on board vessels, as provided for by the Agreement.

“A global binding instrument involving all port States seems to be the only way of achieving a comprehensive system,” he said, with port States agreeing on harmonized and mandatory obligations – a proposal subsequently supported by Australia, the European Community, the United States and others.

“If all flag States were discharging their duties there would be no illegal fishing,” said C. Costa Duarte of Brazil.

Stronger controls on support vessels carrying out trans-shipping of catches and resupply and refueling of boats carrying out illegal fishing were called for by James Larsen of Australia. “These at-sea support services are well-organized and largely unregulated,” he said. Regulating nationals was also crucial, he said. “States have a responsibility to regulate the activities of their nationals, as well as companies operating within their jurisdiction.”

Illegal fishing, F. Magaffouba of Guinea said, is a “real catastrophe for developing countries,” adding that it was often done in fish reproduction areas, causing long-term damage. Illegal fishing deprived developing countries of revenues, and foreign fishing vessels from countries with a much longer fishing tradition and much better equipment took advantage of developing countries' lack of resources to combat the problem.

Lori Ridgeway of Canada called for a “renewed international assault” against such practices and stressed the duty of corporate responsibility. Sanctions “should be more than just the cost of doing business,” she said, citing a study that estimated that violators had one chance out of five of being apprehended, and that the fines usually imposed were so low that even with a 25-fold increase of penalties the violating vessels would still break even.

William Gibbons-Fly of the United States agreed on the need to penalize illegal business and lamented the “persistence of significant illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.” He suggested developing a global registry of fishing vessels, obligating all vessels to carry a Vessel Monitoring System by 2008 and auditing registries of flag States.

The Conference, which will result in a political document containing new measures to strengthen the implementation of the Agreement, is the first opportunity to formally review the pact since it entered into force five years ago.

 

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