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Fisheries: Reviewing an important governance tool for fisheries in the high seas - the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement

Press release - 1/06/2010

The EU and other fishing nations from around the world met at the United Nations Headquarters in New York last week to assess the progress made in implementing the United Nations Convention on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. They concluded that, despite the progress made on several fronts in the last few years, the status of these fish stocks remains worrying because of overfishing, and stronger action is needed.

From 24 to 28 May 2010, delegations from all over the world met in New York for a second session of the Review Conference on state of implementation of the 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.

Back in 2006, four years after the Agreement had entered into force, a first Review Conference had given a number of recommendations to improve its implementation. Last week the Review Conference was resumed, again with the purpose to review how effective the implementation of the Agreement has been, see whether there is room for improvement, and promote broader ratification.

It was acknowledged that a number of positive developments have taken place since 2006: the adoption by the FAO of a legally-binding instrument on port State measures to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing (“Port State Measures Agreement”); the work of FAO to develop a global record of fishing vessels and to develop criteria to assess the performance of flag States; the second meeting of the five RFMOs dealing with highly migratory fish stocks in San Sebastian, Spain, and the follow up work already underway; the successful adoption of the Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean (“SPRFMO Convention”); the continued negotiations for a regional arrangement in the North Pacific Ocean; and the imminent entry into force of the Convention for the Strengthening of the IATTC (the “Antigua Convention”) in 2010.

That said the Conference also recognized that, despite the efforts undertaken by States and RFMOs, much stronger action is still required to improve the status of highly migratory and straddling fish stocks as well as of associated and dependent species. The majority of the species covered by the Agreement and for which information is available can be considered either fully exploited or over-exploited.

The Conference stressed the need for effective conservation and management measures, which should be based on scientific evidence and properly enforced. This should lead to better compliance with the adopted measures on one hand and with the obligation of data submission on the other.

Delegates also expressed their support for the ecosystem approach. To the EU's regret, however, they were unable to agree to include a reference to Marine Protected Areas and the effects of pollution on fish stocks and habitats in its final recommendations.

The Conference reiterated its commitment to reduce the capacity of the world’s fishing fleets, while recognizing the legitimate aspirations of developing States to develop their fisheries. Cutting down capacity will help fight against IUU fishing. In this context the extended use of catch documentation schemes was also praised.

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations are seen as the appropriate framework for the management of the stocks covered by the Agreement; updating their mandates and holding regular performance reviews are a good way to ensure that these organizations continue to improve and deliver on their objectives.

An important objective of the resumed Review Conference was to convince more states to become parties to the Agreement as well as to Regional Fisheries Organisations. In this respect, the Conference renewed and increased its commitment to assist developing states in meeting their obligations and taking an equitable part in the fisheries covered by the Agreement. The fish stocks covered by the Agreement are by definition shared resources which migrate from the territorial waters of dozens of countries to the high seas and vice versa. Many of those countries are developing countries that lack the capacity and resources to implement all of the Agreement’s provisions. As delegates agreed, it is in everybody’s interest to provide assistance to developing countries for the Agreement’s implementation.

Among other results, a specific reference was made to the need for stronger conservation and management measures for sharks, as well as for long-term conservation and management measures for deep-sea fisheries.

The meeting included a large number of States which are not parties to the Agreement and several non-governmental organizations. The climate was very positive and constructive, with general optimism and consensus that fisheries and marine ecosystems are better managed within regional organizations and in the general framework of the Agreement.

The European Union had an active bearing on the works of the resumed Review Conference and is pleased with its outcome. The EU is confident that an improved implementation of the Agreement will benefit the long-term conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.

As for the future of the Review Conference, it was agreed that a framework for reviewing the implementation of the Agreement should be maintained; the Conference was suspended once more, with the option to resume it as from 2015.

Background information

The 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 provides a framework for the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks in high seas areas regulated by regional fisheries management organizations.

Straddling stocks are fish, such as cod and Greenland halibut for instance, that "straddle" or migrate through the 200-mile limit of coastal states and adjacent high seas waters. Highly migratory stocks travel through large areas of international waters and through the 200-mile limits of coastal States. Tuna is a good example of a highly migratory fish stock.

The Agreement was adopted by the UN in 1995; it entered into force in December 2001 and currently counts 77 State parties. The 27 EU Member States are parties to the Agreement, and the EU is also a party as a regional economic integration organization.

The Agreement is an important tool for the modernization of international fisheries and oceans governance. The Agreement obliges States to use the precautionary approach and the ecosystem approach when managing fisheries on the high seas. It also gives States the right to monitor and inspect vessels of other state parties to verify compliance with internationally agreed fishing rules of regional fisheries regimes, such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.