16 March 2006


16 March 2006
Press Release
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Background Release



NEW YORK, 16 March (UN Office of Legal Affairs) -- With the world’s fisheries continuing to post dramatic declines, and amid fears that many fish species are becoming rapidly depleted, countries will meet from 20 to 24 March at the United Nations for talks aimed at improving efforts to implement and strengthen a global treaty on the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.

“Certain fish stocks have declined to the point where their commercial value has become insignificant”, says the latest report of the Secretary-General on sustainable fisheries (document A/60/189).  “Other stocks have been so substantially reduced that their biological survival is seriously threatened.”

While statistics vary from region to region, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which oversees the state of the world’s fisheries, found that the global potential for marine capture fisheries has been reached, and more rigorous plans are needed to rebuild depleted stocks and prevent the decline of those being exploited at or close to their maximum potential.

The consultations are part of the preparatory process for the first Review Conference of the 1995 Agreement for the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks that will be held at the United Nations from 22 to 26 May.  The Conference will assess the adequacy of the Agreement in securing the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, and, if necessary, propose means of strengthening the Agreement’s substance and methods of implementation.

The Agreement addresses highly migratory species that regularly travel long distances through the high seas and areas under national jurisdiction.  Examples include tuna, swordfish and oceanic sharks.  It also covers straddling stocks, stocks that occur both within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) -- up to
200 nautical miles offshore -- where coastal States have sovereign rights for the conservation and management of marine living resources, and in areas beyond and adjacent to the EEZ.  Some examples of such stocks are cod, halibut, pollock, jack mackerel and squid.

There is general consensus that the Agreement should be fully implemented.

“Although the Agreement entered into force in 2001, full implementation of its provisions is yet to be achieved”, said David Balton (United States), Chairperson of the fourth round of Informal Consultations of States Parties, at that meeting last May.

The problem, according to the Secretary-General’s report for the Review Conference (document A/CONF.210/2006/1), is that fishing on the high seas can lead to overfishing as a result of an “Olympic fishery” -- a race by fishing vessels to catch as many fish as possible as quickly as possible under what is considered to be an “open access” regime in which no commonly accepted rules are in place or observed.

There are other problems as well -- limited conservation measures in the high seas; a lack of cooperation on regional agreements; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; and excessive by-catch -- unwanted fishes and animals caught accidentally and discarded overboard, dead or dying.  According to the FAO, by-catch amounts to between 18 million and 40 million tons annually, or 20 per cent of the total marine harvest.

Most of the world’s high seas fisheries are presently managed by a number of regional organizations and agreements that set the rules and quotas for fishing in a certain area.  But some geographical areas and fish species are not covered by existing regional organizations, and stronger cooperation is needed to extend the coverage and scope of existing organizations or establish new ones.

Several countries feel that the May Review Conference should seek to strengthen implementation of the Agreement and increase participation by addressing obstacles preventing a larger group of States to become parties.  Some coastal States and high-seas fishing States have concerns on how to ensure that conservation and management measures for both the high seas and the EEZ are compatible.  Other countries feel that article 21, on regional cooperation in enforcement on the high seas, violates their jurisdiction over fishing vessels flying their flags.


The United Nations Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks sets out principles for the conservation and management of those stocks and establishes that such management must be based on the precautionary approach and the best available scientific information.

The treaty elaborates on the fundamental principle, established in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, that States should cooperate to ensure conservation and promote the optimum utilization of fisheries resources both within and beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Agreement provides a framework for cooperation in the conservation and management of those resources.  It promotes the effective management and conservation by establishing, among other things, detailed minimum international standards for the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks; ensuring that conservation and management measures in areas under national jurisdiction and in the adjacent high seas are compatible and coherent; ensuring that there are effective mechanisms for compliance and enforcement of those measures on the high seas; and recognizing the special requirements of developing countries in relation to conservation and management, as well as the development and participation in fisheries.

The Agreement was adopted on 4 August 1995 by the United Nations Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks and opened for signature on 4 December 1995.  It entered into force on 11 December 2001, 30 days after the date of deposit of the thirtieth instrument of ratification or accession.

The treaty has 56 parties, including the European Community:  Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Kiribati, Liberia, Luxembourg, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Monaco, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Senegal, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tonga, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.

The Agreement (article 36) stipulates that a Review Conference be convened by the Secretary-General four years after the entry into force of the Agreement.

Informal Consultations of States Parties have been held annually since 2002 to consider the implementation of the Agreement and prepare for the Review Conference.  The preparatory consultations next week are the fifth round of the Informal Consultations.

The March preparatory meeting is expected, among other things, to:

-- Agree on a draft set of criteria to assess the Agreement, to be recommended to the May Review Conference;

-- Agree on a provisional agenda and draft rules of procedure for the Review Conference;

-- Discuss possible outputs of the Conference;

-- Discuss possible future actions, including future Review Conferences and formalized States parties meetings; and

-- Consider the report (document A/CONF.210/2006/1) prepared by the Secretary-General in cooperation with the FAO.

For further information, please visit or contact:  UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea; tel.: +1-212-963-3962; e-mail:

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.