|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-first General Assembly
71st Meeting (AM)
GENERAL ASSEMBLY CALLS FOR ‘IMMEDIATE ACTION’ TO SUSTAINABLY MANAGE FISH STOCKS,
PROTECT DEEP SEA ECOSYSTEMS FROM HARMFUL FISHING PRACTICES
Adopts Consensus ‘Sustainable Fisheries’ Resolution;
Delays Action on Annual Text Concerning Law of Sea Convention
Deploring the fact that overfishing, illegal catches, wasteful methods and destructive techniques were leading to the rapid depletion of fish stocks and spoiling fragile marine habitats in many parts of the world, the United Nations General Assembly today called on States to take “immediate action”, individually and through regional organizations, to sustainably manage fish stocks, and protect vulnerable deep sea ecosystems from harmful fishing practices.
Adopting a consensus resolution on sustainable fisheries, the Assembly called on all States, directly or through regional fisheries management organizations, to apply widely, in accordance with international law, the precautionary approach and an ecosystem approach to the conservation, management and exploitation of fish stocks, including straddling fish stocks, highly migratory fish stocks and discrete high seas fish stocks. It also called on States parties to the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement to implement fully the provisions of article 6 (on the precautionary approach) of that accord, as a matter of priority.
[The Fish Stocks Agreement is an international accord adopted by the 1995 United Nations Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. Rather than using the traditional approach of States trying to manage individual fish stocks, it requires countries and organizations to look at the whole ecosystem. It also includes the precautionary principle, which means the absence of adequate scientific information shall not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take conservation and management measures.]
The text also expresses the Assembly’s particular concern that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing constituted a serious threat to fish stocks and marine habitats and ecosystems, to the detriment of sustainable fisheries, as well as the food security and the economies of many States, particularly developing States.
The Assembly, therefore, urged States to exercise effective control over their nationals, including beneficial owners, and vessels flying their flag, in order to prevent and deter them from engaging in or supporting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities, and to facilitate mutual assistance to ensure that such actions can be investigated and proper sanctions imposed. It further urged States to take effective measures, at the national, regional and global levels, to deter the activities of any vessel which undermined conservation and management measures that had been adopted by regional and subregional fisheries management organizations and arrangements.
Adoption of the text capped the Assembly’s annual joint consideration of matters related to oceans and the law of the sea, including sustainable fisheries. While most of the nearly 35 delegations taking the floor during the two-day debate reaffirmed the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as the pre-eminent international agreement relating to the oceans, with definitive limits placed upon the rights of States in each maritime zone, ongoing negotiations led the Assembly to postpone to a later date adoption of its traditional omnibus text on that Treaty.
Rounding out the discussion today were the heads of two of the three institutions created by the Convention: Satya Nandan, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority and Ruediger Wolfrum, President, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, who both reported on the work of their respective bodies during the past year. The Convention also established the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
Also speaking today was the representative of the Russian Federation, as well as the permanent Observer of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Speaking in explanation of position action were the representatives of Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, and Turkey.
The representative of Singapore spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Assembly will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.
The General Assembly met this morning to conclude its joint consideration of matters related to oceans and the law of the sea, and sustainable fisheries. It was also expected to take action on a draft resolution on sustainable fisheries including through instruments related to the 1995 Agreement on implementing provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention related to conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks (document A/61/L.38). For background on the draft text, please see Press Release GA/10548, issued 7 December 2006.
GENNADY V. KUZMIN ( Russian Federation) said his delegation attached great priority to developing global maritime laws and improving international regulations for fisheries. The main body of law in this area that should be respected by all was the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which, among other things, ensured freedom of the high seas, right to fish on the high seas and right of safe passage.
The Russian Federation would call on the coastal States to stand by their obligations and not adopt any laws that would contravene or undermine the near-universal principles set out in the Convention. On ensuring sustainable fisheries and promoting sustainable fishing practices, he said that his Government believed that the greatest responsibility in that area was with the regional fisheries management organizations and on States whose vessels were involved in those practices. He said his delegation would also reiterate the importance of the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, in that regard.
HARLEN COHEN, Observer of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, said his organization was very concerned about the current state of the world’s oceans. As a conservation group, the Union recognized the importance of healthy fish stocks, which provided an important source of protein, particularly in developing countries. In supporting measures to ensure the conservation and sustainable and equitable use of all marine living resources, the Union believed that the research and the science should be done first, and then only of there was evidence that potentially destructive practices would not harm vulnerable marine ecosystems should the activity be allowed to proceed. “It is important to consider how to further develop tools for precautionary and ecosystems-based management,” he added.
He said that the Secretary-General’s latest report on the impact of deep sea fishing noted that, today, even once-inaccessible deep sea areas, such as seamounts and submarine canyons, were being affected by fishing activities. It also noted that some 95 per cent of the damage inflected on deep water systems resulted from bottom trawling. In 2004, the Union’s highest body, the World Conservation Congress, had adopted a resolution calling for the interim prohibition on high seas bottom trawling until such time as effective conservation and management measures were in place to protect deep sea environments in accordance with international law.
With that decision in mind, the Union welcomed language in the Assembly’s relevant resolution calling for action, by regional fisheries management organizations with competence to regulate bottom trawling, to adopt and implement measures on the basis of the best scientific information and in accordance with the precautionary and ecosystems approaches. The Union also welcomed the call for closing to bottom fishing of areas where marine ecosystems, including seamounts and hydrothermal cold water corals, were known of were likely to occur, unless conservation and management measures had been adopted to prevent the adverse impacts on those fragile habitats.
At the same time, for areas outside regional fisheries management organizations, the Union regretted that an immediate interim prohibition had not been adopted, he said, expressing the hope that States would soon adopt such measures to halt potential further damage to fragile deep sea ecosystems. The Union would also encourage States to adopt, by 2008, uniform measures to prohibit deep sea bottom fishing in areas where there were no regional fisheries management organizations. Turning next to work underway on marine genetic resources, he welcomed the decision of the open-ended informative consultative process on oceans and law of the sea, to reconvene, in 2007, its working group to study issues related to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and, in 2008, to include genetic resources among the issues that would be discussed.
SATYA N. NANDAN, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, reported on the work of the Authority and its Governing Council during the past year, highlighting, among other things, that the body continued to consider draft regulations for prospecting and exploration of polymetallilc sulphides, and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the International Seabed Area. It had held a workshop on some of the technical issues that needed further elaboration. The Council decided that it would give priority to regulations on polymetallic sulphides in 2007, and would then take up a separate set of regulations on cobalt-rich crusts.
He said that, as more was becoming known about deep sea mineral resources and deposits, there had been a growing recognition that such areas were rich in fauna. While there was a need to protect and preserve such fauna and their habitats, additional knowledge about those species could be best developed using standardized taxonomy for identification. He went on to say that interest in mineral resources revolved around three types of deposits: polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides (which contain a range of metals, including copper, iron, gold, zinc and silver) and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts (cobalt, iron, manganese, nickel, platinum and titanium).
On polymetallic sulphides specifically, he said that work on developing those resources had been slow. Although the Authority had issued exploration licenses to eight State-backed entities, he believed that, until the private sector got involved, prospects for commercial mining of deep sea minerals would remain uncertain. He noted here one instance in which Nautilus Minerals, a private company, had obtained explorations licenses for the sulphides in Papua New Guinea’s waters. After extensive surveys had located promising deposits, the company had gone public and had subsequently been able to attack partners and financial backers. One such company had helped it construct a specialized deep sea mining vessel –- the Jules Verne –- that was expected to be complete by 2009.
If Nautilus and its partners were successful, the effect of its exploration would be revolutionary, in terms of seabed mining and the world’s mineral resource base, he said, adding that the prospect of success was particularly exciting for the Authority, which had monitored the project closely and had held workshops in which Nautilus personnel had participated. On other matters, he said that, last year, the Authority had established an endowment fund for marine scientific research in the International Seabed Area, from the fees paid by contractors for polymetallic nodule deposits. Among other things, the fund aimed to facilitate the participation of qualified scientists from developing countries to participate in research activities.
Turning to organizational matters, he expressed concern that Member States were still not adequately participating in the Authority’s annual sessions. At its twelfth session, a discussion had been held on the matter and a strong appeal was made to delegations to impress upon their colleagues in New York, to boost their level of participation. Finally, as Chair of the United Nations conference that had adopted the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, he said that the review conference, earlier this year, had come up with proposals for comprehensive measures which, if implemented, would go a long way towards strengthening the Agreement and ensuring its wider implementation. The relevant text before the Assembly would endorse those proposals, he added.
RUEDIGER WOLFRUM, President, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, reporting on developments within the Tribunal over the last year, said the body had held its 21st and 22nd sessions, essentially devoted to legal, organizational and administrative matters. The Tribunal had also given consideration to its competence in maritime delimitation cases. Parties to a maritime delimitation dispute may, at any time, agree to submit the dispute to the Tribunal through a special agreement, even if it involved issues regarding land boundaries or cases involving disputed sovereignty over islands. The Tribunal’s Special Chamber, formed to deal with a dispute between Chile and the European Community, had extended the time-limit for making preliminary objections.
He said that the Tribunal this year had celebrated its tenth anniversary. During its first decade, the Tribunal had established itself as an effective body to settle maritime disputes in accordance with the rule of law, and had established jurisprudence that played an important role in the pacific settlement of disputes relating to the application of the Convention. Through the speedy delivery of decisions in 13 cases, the Tribunal had been able to assist States in solving a variety of issues, including prompt release of vessels and their crews, protection of the maritime environment and use of force in law enforcement activities.
It was, however, evident that the potential of the Tribunal had not been fully utilized, he said, and possible litigants could take more advantage of the judges’ skills and cost-effective procedures before the Tribunal. States may avail themselves, at any time, of the possibility, offered by Article 287, to make written declarations nominating the Tribunal as the preferred forum for the settlement of their disputes concerning the Convention. Of the current 152 States Parties, only 39 States had made such declarations, of which only 22 had accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Tribunal.
A further alternative to confer jurisdiction on the Tribunal was through the insertion of jurisdictional clauses in international agreements related to the law of the sea, he continued. Eight such multilateral agreements had already been concluded, of which the 1995 Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement was the best known. The Convention on the Removal of Wrecks under consideration at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) had incorporated a settlement of dispute clause that referred to the dispute settlement system established by the Convention on the Law of the Sea. He invited States to consider making use of the option of inserting similar jurisdictional clauses in future agreements.
He said potential fragmentation of international law was an issue that had arisen out of the process of international judicial decentralization. The Tribunal was required to apply rules of international law and had striven, therewith, to preserve the integrity of general international law. It had also made efforts to keep abreast of the judicial development that took place in other international jurisdictions, in particular the International Court of Justice. The harmonization of the Convention might be preserved through the adjudication of maritime disputes by the Tribunal. Only permanent courts could ensure consistency in the dispute resolution and the development of a coherent corpus of jurisprudence. As the possible problems of coherence in international law might be controlled by coordinating the efforts of international courts or tribunals, he had suggested a meeting of the Presidents of all international courts and the Chairman of the International Law Commission.
The Tribunal was organizing a series of workshops on the settlement of law of the sea-related disputes in different regions of the world, in order to provide Government experts with insight into the procedures for the settlement of disputes contained in Part XV of the Convention. He drew attention to the existence of the trust fund to assist States Parties in the settlement of disputes through the Tribunal, as a State with limited resources might be hesitant to bring a case before the Tribunal. In that regard, an amount of $20,000 had been awarded to Guinea-Bissau in 2005.
Action on Draft
The Assembly then adopted the draft on sustainable fisheries (document A/61/L.38) without a vote.
Speaking in explanation of position after action, the representative of Chile said that, after joining consensus on the text, his delegation would underscore the efforts of all delegations to arrive at consensus on the various elements of the resolution, particularly on the need to strengthen the role of regional fisheries management organizations towards protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems and highly migratory fish stocks, such as mackerel. At the same time, Chile had been hoping for stronger language on damaging or destructive fishing practices on the high seas and would now call on the next round of regional fisheries management organizations negotiations to take up that issue as a matter of priority, as well as comprehensively addressing the ecosystems approach towards ensuring the preservation of fragile marine ecosystems and fish stocks.
Ecuador’s representative said that none of the recommendations in the text referring to the implementation of the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, could be interpreted as mandatory or binding on States that had not yet ratified that Agreement.
The representative of Argentina emphasized that, although his country had joined consensus, none of the resolution’s recommendations should be interpreted as implying that the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement might be binding on States that had not given consent to be bound by that Agreement.
The representative of Venezuela said his country had joined consensus and participated in numerous regional fishing management organizations, including the Latin American Organization on Development of Fisheries. It was also party to numerous international instruments regarding the environment and biological diversity. Venezuela was not a party to the Law of the Sea Convention, including the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement. The norms and provisions therein were not applicable to Venezuela, except those that Venezuela had incorporated into its national legislation.
The representative of Colombia said his country had joined consensus, but underlined the fact that the resolution’s provisions could not be considered as extending to non-Party States the clauses of the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement.
Turkey’s representative said his Government was fully committed to the protection, conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources. But, it would dissociate itself from references, in the resolution, to international agreements to which it was not party. Those agreements should not be considered binding on Turkey.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Singapore said that his delegation disagreed with the statement made yesterday, by Australia’s representative, in which that representative had said that Australia had adopted measures concerning the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait (which lies between Australia, Singapore and Papua New Guinea) to ensure both safety of navigation and protection of the sensitive marine environment. Singapore disagreed with Australia’s decisions, which actually imposed compulsory pilotage on all non-military ships transiting the Strait. Australia believed that its decision had the support of the International Maritime Organization, he added.
But, Singapore believed that Strait was a waterway used for international navigation and under part 3 of the Convention, all ships transiting through such straits should enjoy the right of transit passage. Also, under the Convention, although they could adopt laws and regulations relating to transit through those straits, States bordering such areas must comply with generally accepted practices of navigation, including regulations set by the IMO. Such measures could not have the practical effect of denying or impeding the right of passage, he said, adding that Australia’s move contravened the Convention. The right of transit passage was enshrined in the Convention. Singapore was keen to discuss the situation further with Australia, in order to come up with a solution that respected transit passage, conservation concerns, and the principles of the Convention.
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