Countries today agreed on a wide range of recommendations to promote sustainable fishing on the high seas as a conference to review the implementation of a landmark treaty on managing and conserving valuable fish stocks concluded today at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The recommendations call on States to take greater steps to crack down on illegal fishing, to eliminate subsidies that contribute to overfishing, to cut down the size of fishing fleets, and to increase efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks through regional fisheries management organizations.
The concluding document also recognized that significant steps were needed to assist developing countries in implementing the 1995 Agreement on the Conservation and Management of Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.
The review noted that the pact had helped, but that those engaged in illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing have managed to find ways to escape detection or avoid compliance.
The recommendations contained in the document could play a major role in setting the agenda for countries and for the regional fisheries management organizations, according the Conference’s Chair, David Balton of the United States.
“The status of fish stocks is not where we want it to be and more needs to be done,” Mr. Balton said. “For the industry, for consumers and for the marine environment, this meeting brings us a step closer to achieving sustainable fisheries worldwide.”
Mr. Balton added that he was hopeful that countries that had not yet joined the treaty had received reassurances during the one-week conference that could pave the way toward their ratification.
“The treaty is quite good; what the treaty lacks is implementation,” he said. “There is a need to translate the Agreement into action.”
So far 57 countries have ratified the 1995 Agreement, which entered into force in 2001, and the Chairman said 14 other countries had indicated during the Conference that they expected to do so soon.
The head of the group that drafted the concluding document, Fernando Curcio Ruigomez of Spain, said the agreement reached would help regional fisheries management organizations – the main instruments for conserving and managing fishery resources.
Strengthening the regional fisheries management organizations, which are central to the implementation of the Agreement, figured prominently in the consensus, with countries calling for improved conservation and management measures, better communications among organizations, more equitable and transparent criteria for allocating fishing quotas, and efforts to promote the participation of non-members in fisheries organizations.
Countries agreed on a number of measures to target illegal fishing, which according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) is worth up to $9.5 billion and makes up about 14 per cent of the value of marine catch globally. Up to 30 per cent of this fishing occurs on the high seas where there are fewer controls.
“Some of those most interested in cracking down on illegal fishing are the legal fishers,” Mr. Balton said. “They don’t like such competition.”
The measures recommended at the Conference include equipping all fishing vessels with satellite tracking devices, greater use of observers aboard fishing vessels to monitor catches, and steps that countries can take when fishing vessels come to port to make sure the catch has been take in accordance with international rules. There was also agreement that flag States should improve controls on vessels flying their flag on the high seas and that greater efforts have to be taken to deal with the problem of flags of convenience.
The consensus reached today also calls for establishing new regional fisheries management organizations in areas that are not presently regulated, eliminating subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and improving data on catches.
Mr. Balton said that while countries agreed that the size of the world’s fishing fleet should be reduced, it had to be done equitably, and that the needs of developing countries must be considered. “It is in the interest of all to give greater assistance to developing countries,” he said.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported that about 30 per cent of tuna, more than 50 per cent of oceanic sharks and nearly two thirds of other ocean-going species are either overexploited or depleted.