|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press conference on fish stocks agreement review
The first ever Review Conference on the 1995 Agreement for the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks was shaping up to be a very successful meeting, the Chairperson of the Review Conference told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.
As the Review Conference entered its final afternoon of deliberations, David Balton of the United States, said he had high expectations for the meeting’s outcome. The Agreement under review -– the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement -- was the primary agreement at the global level in the regulation of international fisheries. Fifty-seven States were now party to the Agreement. Another 14 States, including Japan, one of the world’s major fishing Powers, had announced their intention to join the Agreement in the near term.
During the week-long session, delegations had had a hard look at the Agreement and were considering concrete ideas to improve its implementation around the world, he said. More needed to be done to better conserve and manage resources for all concerned, including the industries, consumers and the marine environment.
“The status of fish stocks regulated in accordance with this Agreement is not where we want it to be”, he said. The meeting would take the international community a step closer to achieving sustainable fisheries worldwide. While some points of difference still needed to be sorted out, he was hopeful that a meaningful outcome would be achieved by the end of the day.
Fernando Curcio Ruigomez, the Chair of the Conference’s Drafting Committee and a senior official from Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Food, agreed that the atmosphere among participants, including non-governmental organizations, had been positive. By providing a framework for cooperation, the Agreement was the only tool to rule States’ fisheries in coastal waters and the high seas.
Regional fishery organizations and arrangements were currently the main instrument for ruling fisheries in the world, he added. Much progress had been made since the 1995 Agreement and more regional organizations were modernizing and developing mechanisms for implementing the rules established in 1995. There was great hope that fisheries and marine ecosystems would, in the future, be better ruled by regional organizations and the general framework of the 1995 Agreement.
Would the Conference’s outcome document agree to any “big ticket” issues? a correspondent asked.
Responding, Mr. Balton said the Conference had a mandate to review how the Agreement had been operating in the four years since it had entered into force. While that was not a lot of time, based on those four years, delegates had had the opportunity to propose means to strengthen its implementation. He expected that a series of measures would be agreed to, both by individual States and through collective action among States, particularly in regional organizations.
The fish stocks in question were by definition shared resources, migrating both in waters under the control of individual States and on the high seas, and passing through areas under the control of dozens of countries, he said. Many of those countries were developing countries that lacked capacity and resources to give full effect to all of the Agreement’s provisions. Delegates had, this week, taken a hard look at that issue and had agreed that it was in everybody’s interest to provide greater assistance to developing countries in the Agreement’s implementation. That might be one “big ticket” item.
Another item was that, despite significant effort, “IUU” (illegal, unregulated and unreported) fishing was going on, he said. Rules were established by States for areas under their control, and collectively for areas of the high seas. Those rules were too often violated. Delegates were agreeing this week to a series of steps to help better crack-down on IUU fishing. The Conference was likely to agree by the end of the day to a series of additional steps to address IUU fishing.
Outlining the steps to be included in the final report, he said all vessels fishing on the high seas should use satellite monitoring systems, so that enforcement authorities could know where they were at all times. There should also be greater use of independent observers riding aboard vessels to monitor their activities. Port States should take a series of steps to ensure that fish that was landed or transhipped had not been caught in violation of agreed rules. Those were some of the tools that the Conference would be strengthening or newly agreeing to this week and there were many others.
Asked to describe contentious issues, he said it was generally recognized that the capacity of the world’s fishing fleet was too large, at present. Some estimates suggested it was well above an appropriate level. While there was recognition that it should be reduced, bringing about that reduction in an equitable way would be a challenge. The developing States had the attitude that much of the over-fishing had been the fault of developed countries, and if the fleet as a whole had to be reduced, they should have greater opportunities to develop their own fisheries. That issue would not be resolved this week. Such decisions needed to be taken on a fishery-by-fishery basis, under the umbrella of regional organizations.
Responding to a question on Spain’s fishing fleet, Mr. Curcio said one of the issues facing Spain was the increase in fuel prices. Spain’s Government was trying to help industries find new energy sources that would be less consuming and more environmentally friendly, including by substituting current organic fossil fuels with ethanol, biodiesel and other energy sources that were being developed, not only in Spain, but in the United States.
On the issue of bottom trawling, he noted that, while it had been raised this week, the question was a separate process that would be raised by the General Assembly in the fall. It was unlikely that the outcome of this week’s meeting would change the course of that debate significantly. He was hopeful, however, that new initiatives could be agreed by the General Assembly to address the issue of bottom trawling.
Regarding IUU fishing, he agreed that it was all too easy for vessels to re-flag. The new flag State very often had very little connection to the boat. The flag State very often lacked meaningful control of the vessel. There were ways to tackle the issue. Having port and market States take concrete measures to prevent illegally caught fish from entering their markets could go along away to taking away the economic basis of illegal fishers.
Asked to list the major fishing States that were party to the Agreement, he noted the European Union, United States, Canada, Australia, Norway, New Zealand and Iceland. Developing countries including Brazil, South Africa, Morocco and Namibia. China, Republic of Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines were not party to the Agreement, although Indonesia and the Philippines had announced their intentions to join the Agreement in the near future.
The meeting did not have the mandate to change the Agreement or adopt legally binding decisions, he said in response to another question. However, as the meeting had been conducted in a transparent manner, he hoped that the recommendations contained in the final report would be translated into concrete activity. That was the way the Conference could help the process.
Would there be a Conference to amend the treaty itself? a correspondent asked. Responding, he said it was not necessary or desirable to amend the treaty. What the Agreement lacked was full implementation. The treaty was quite young. There was no real interest in changing it.
The 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement was built on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and was intended to give further effect to provisions of the 1982 convention, he continued. The Agreement was, integrally, a part of the Law of the Sea regime.
Responding to another question, he said some of the parties most interested in cracking down on illegal fishing were the legal fishers. A coalition of international fisheries associations were championing efforts to crack down on illegal fishing. There was a common thread of interest among environmental groups, industry associations and governments to address the situation.
Asked whether he was pleased with the participation of non-governmental organizations in the session, Mr. Balton said there had been a very healthy representation among the non-governmental organizations, which had been able to address the Conference on each of the topics before the Conference. They had also been involved in the deliberations that had produced the 1995 Agreement and had driven the agenda since then.
Mr. Curcio said he was confident that, with the Agreement, regional organizations would carry out their duty by ruling the oceans in a way that protected both fish and fishermen.
* *** *For information media • not an official record