Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the United Nations Open-Ended Informal Consultation Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea
New York, 17 June 2009

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea. As you review the achievements and shortcomings of the Process over its past nine meetings, I would like to encourage you to consider its contribution to sustainable development – both actual and potential.

The oceans, marine life, biodiversity and the health of the world’s fisheries have direct impacts on – and are affected by – economic growth, social development and the health of the environment.

Fisheries are an 80 billion dollar industry and provide food, employment and a way of life to countless people around the world. In 2006, the fishing industry employed 43.5 million people. Of these, 37 million, or about 86 per cent, were located in Asia mainly in developing countries. It is also important to note the role of women both in working in the fisheries sector and in ensuring household food security.

The fishing industry is rapidly developing export capacity as a global market emerges. Yet, over-fishing, bottom-trawling and other unsustainable practices are limiting its long-term viability.

All relevant indicators show that marine fisheries are deteriorating rapidly. Bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, cod, herring and anchovy are in short supply. In the mid-1970s, about 50 percent of the fish stocks were characterized as “recovering”. By 2005, the proportion was 75 percent.

The global fish catch, upon which so many depend for sustenance, has remained stagnant since the mid-nineties. Even more importantly, the natural capital stock of fish has declined, as high-value species have become scarce. Aquaculture now accounts for about 50 per cent of food fish production worldwide. In other words, almost half of the fish we eat today is raised artificially.

At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in the warming of the seas and carbonization of the oceans. This will have a number of ramifications, including acidification of coral reefs, increase of invasive species and the redistribution of warm water species – all of which will affect the prospects for sustainable development. Even aquaculture will be impacted as climate change brings higher sea levels and changes in precipitation and weather patterns to coastal areas.

All this points to the urgent need for fisheries reform and for institutionalizing incentives to ensure long-term sustainability in the fisheries sector.

We can – and must – avoid further “tragedy of the commons”. This Informal Consultative Process (ICP) can make a valuable contribution in facilitating precisely the kind of joint action now urgently needed.

The ICP has a unique mandate to consider ocean-related issues in the context of sustainable development – including efforts aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals – and to identify emerging issues for the General Assembly. It provides an important forum for the international community to deliberate, forge consensus and take action on pressing common challenges.

The ICP also provides a venue for the United Nations system to report on all its ocean-related activities, under the umbrella of UN-Oceans.

As an active member of UN-Oceans, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs will continue to work with all UN agencies, organizations and programs, as well as other partners, on oceans-related activities to achieve sustainable development goals. I particularly appreciate the opportunity – through today’s meeting – to strengthen cooperation on oceans issues between DESA and the Office of Legal Affairs.

I believe that your review of past ICP meetings in the context of sustainable development would add significant value. It could also point the way for future deliberations on oceans and seas, and marine resources, including at the 20th and 21st sessions of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

I wish you every success during this meeting and in the future as we, together, tackle issues related to oceans and sustainable development.

Thank you.