Aquaculture for all
The Fish Site presents: The Vienna Sessions - Conversations about aquaculture. 9 video interviews with aquaculture thought leaders. Watch here.

UN Reviews Fish Stocks Management

Sustainability Breeding & genetics Economics +2 more

GLOBAL - Despite efforts to improve the governance of high seas fisheries, global fish stocks continued to decline, delegates attending the 2010 Review Conference of the legally binding 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement stressed last week, as they opened debate on key issues related to the sustainable management of fisheries and protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems.

“This is a pivotal time for the future health of the world’s fishery resources,” said Patricia O’Brien, Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, speaking in opening remarks on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The Agreement, which took effect in 2001 and has 77 States parties, was created to enhance cooperation in the management of fisheries resources that span wide areas and are of economic and environmental concern to various nations. It covers highly migratory species, such as tuna, as well as straddling stocks that migrate through, or occur in, more than one economic exclusion zone. The five-day Review Conference was held from 24 to 28 May.

A key issue was the lack of progress in reducing fishing capacity and related harmful subsidies, Ms O’Brien said, noting that direct losses from unreported and unregulated fishing were as high as $24 billion annually. More than 20 million tons of fish and other species were caught as by-catch — 23 per cent of total marine landings. Moreover, the difference between the potential and actual net economic benefits from marine fisheries was an estimated $50 billion per year, a “substantial” part of which could be captured by improved governance.

Review Conference President David Balton of the United States said that the last review in 2006 had produced a robust set of recommendations for ways to strengthen implementation. The resumed initial session of the Review Conference, taking place this week, was an opportunity to examine those recommendations and what had been done to implement them.

Much had happened since the Agreement had entered into force, he said, noting that Governments had worked hard to translate its provisions into concrete measures to regulate fisheries and migratory stocks. New regional fisheries management organisations were coming into existence, with mandates drawn from the Agreement, while many longstanding ones had changed their measures, practices and, in some cases, their charters to conform to the Agreement. In addition, 20 new States had become parties to the Agreement since 2006 alone; the 77 represented most of the major flag States of fishing vessels and major markets for fish.

In the debate that followed, Government officials and representatives from both regional fisheries management organisations and non-governmental organisations framed their discussions around areas where implementation of the 2006 recommendations was proceeding well, or where little progress had been made and where means could be proposed for strengthening the substance and methods of implementation. Speakers drew attention to State and regional efforts to address recommendations related to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Several speakers voiced concern at the worrying status of fish stocks, but differed on the underlying reasons for that situation. For the European Union, the performance of the regional fisheries management organisations had been uneven and not always effective in ensuring compliance, that delegation’s representative said. Performance reviews were needed for the timely implementation of recommendations. Organisations should strengthen their requirements for accurate and timely data to maintain and restore stocks to appropriate levels, and incorporate mechanisms to ensure a thorough review of parties and non-parties at least once a year, with a view to possible sanctions for non-compliance.

The United States’ delegate, in her national capacity, pointed out that themanagement of some fisheries and performance of some regional organizations continued to falter. For example, nearly two thirds of the stocks were classified as overexploited or depleted, which was similar to what had been described in 2006. The Secretary-General’s report noted that the status of stocks had worsened.

Taking a different view, Japan’s delegate pointed to progress in the work of regional management organisations, particularly in the conduct of peer reviews and introduction of new tools to promote conservation and management, such as catch documentation systems. Also, instead of penalising the non-submission of data, it was important to find out why data was not coming in. Was there a lack of capacity, or was something very unrealistic being asked of the fisherman? It was necessary to ask those types of questions, he said.

The Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway said regional fisheries organizations hadmade progress in protecting vulnerable ecosystems and focus should be now on the implementation of General Assembly recommendations. Similarly, New Zealand, as a member of three regional fisheries organisations, understood that establishing such organisations was one thing, but making them functional was another, that country’s representative added. Effectiveness and fairness were key touchstones.

For their part, regional fisheries management organizations focused on hard-won gains over the years, their representatives present today indicated. The representative of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation said that valuable changes were being made to the organisation’s convention and that an amended text was under the process of ratification. During its annual meeting, the organisation also had decided to start a performance review process, taking into account the best practices of some such organisations.

The representative of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission drew attention to work done by the regional fisheries bodies, stressing that the fishing community must be allowed to pursue its legitimate business of economic development.