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18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
International agreement on fishing on the high seas
After the adoption of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea in 1982, coastal states were allowed to claim an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles, within which they would have the exclusive right to regulate fisheries.
But beyond the 200 mile limit, fishing by all nations continued in the "global commons" subject only to such regulations as could be agreed by all participants, a press release issued by the UN Information Center (UNIC) said here Wednesday.
At 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (known as the Earth Summit), countries agreed to convene a new negotiating effort for promoting implementation of the provisions of the convention related to straddling and highly migratory fish stocks - through better mechanisms for regulating key stocks that cross the 200-mile line separating the exclusive economic zone from the high seas.
This intergovernmental conference resulted in the 1995 agreement for the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, a treaty that carefully balanced the sovereign interests of all countries with the need to maintain and enforce a conservation regimen, through cooperation among all the parties involved. Countries will meet from May 22 to 26 at the UN for a Review Conference aimed at reviewing the implementation of the 1995 agreement and at strengthening its provisions. It is the first review of the treaty and it will assess the adequacy of the agreement in securing the conservation and management of such stocks, and, if necessary, propose means of strengthening the agreements substance and methods of implementation in order to better address current problems.
"This agreement generated new interest and a new attitude toward the problem of the management of fisheries and the growing problems of overfishing and illegal fishing," says David Balton (US), who chaired the preparatory talks for the Review Conference in March.
"The profile of the issue has been raised." But despite the efforts so far, Balton says, the capacity of the worlds fishing fleet has continued to increase, contributing to overfishing and the depletion of key stocks.
"The situation is a lot worse than it was in 1995," says Matthew Gianni, an independent advisor who works closely with major international non-governmental organizations on fisheries and ocean issues. "The agreement was almost prescient in anticipating this situation. It is an extraordinary piece of treaty." Gianni, who calls the 1995 Agreement "one of the most important environmental treaties," says the pact is "robust enough, if it were properly implemented." The treaty has had some success, Gianni says. In the Bering Straits, where the agreement has helped prevent further depletion of pollock fisheries, it has also been partially responsible for the sharp decline in dolphin deaths in the Pacific due to fishing. But market pressures have pushed fishing fleets to look further and further afield to find new species and stocks, Gianni says.
Since the 1995 agreement was adopted, Balton notes, new regional fisheries organizations have been created and others have strengthened their earlier charters. These regional organizations have taken steps to implement the agreement and have improved their capacity to monitor fishing fleets in their respective areas. They have also worked to promote better fishing techniques and the use of new gear to reduce the adverse effects of certain types of fishing on the marine environment. In addition, he says, many countries have incorporated provisions of the Agreement into their national legislation.
But the problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing has persisted, Balton says, and ship owners have become very adept at evading government controls and regulations. While every state has the right to regulate a vessel flying its flag, ship owners have been able to circumvent enforcement through maneuvers that hide true ownership. "A vessel can fly the flag of one country, be owned by a corporation in another country, have a master from another, a crew from yet another country, and sell its catch in still another." The problem is that while no one knows precisely how much illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing goes on, fishing vessels operating outside the agreement and the rules of the regional organizations can benefit as states restrict catches to allow fisheries to recover.
"Its the classic free rider situation," Balton says. "The key is to raise the costs of illegal fishing," he added. He also believes that more states should ratify the agreement, which currently has 57 parties. "The agreement is being ratified at a remarkable pace. The number of ratifications is pretty impressive." And major fishing states, he notes, such as Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines, have recently announced their intention to ratify.
Balton acknowledges that there are reasons why some countries have been reluctant to join the treaty. In particular, he says, some developing countries may require capacity and resources that they now lack to comply fully with the Agreement. This review conference, he adds, can help promote commitments by developed countries to assist developing countries. There are also a number of sensitive issues raised by the agreement, he says. There are some issues that concern compatibility between conservation and management measures adopted by coastal states in areas under national jurisdiction and those established in the adjacent high seas areas. Some other countries are concerned about the provisions of the agreement which would subject their fishing vessels on the high seas to boarding and inspection by personnel of other states. "This conference will review and assess the adequacy of the agreement," Balton says. "It will look at whats going right and whats not going so well. But I believe that the Conference will conclude that much more needs to be done."
Issues/Flag state issues
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Political processes/FAO / UN High Seas Processes