World Governments Adopt Sustainable Fisheries Resolution

NEW YORK, New York, December 12, 2006 (ENS) - Concerned that overfishing, illegal catches, wasteful methods and destructive techniques are depleting fish stocks and ruining fragile marine habitats in many parts of the world, the UN General Assembly Friday called on all nations to take "immediate action," to sustainably manage fish stocks, and protect vulnerable deep sea ecosystems from harmful fishing practices.

The General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution introduced by the United States that asks all countries to apply the "precautionary approach" and an "ecosystem approach" to the conservation, management and exploitation of fish stocks.

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Cecil Floyd, senior adviser to the United States Mission to the UN, introduces the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries to the General Assembly. (Photo by Paulo Filgueiras courtesy UN)
The resolution expressed the Assembly’s particular concern that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a serious threat to fish stocks, marine habitats and ecosystems, as well as the food security and the economies of many nations, particularly poorer ones.

Globally, more than half of global fish stocks, 52 percent, are fully exploited found a study issued jointly earlier this year by the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, and the World Conservation Union, IUCN.

Overexploited and depleted species have increased from about 10 percent in the mid-1970s to 24 percent in 2002, according to the study, "Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High Seas."

As adopted by the General Assembly, the Sustainable Fisheries resolution addressed the issue of bottom trawling, which drags heavy gear across the ocean floor to catch fish, leaving behind few life forms of any kind.

The resolution calls on Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, RFMOs to close vulnerable marine ecosystems to bottom trawling by December 2008 unless conservation and management measures have been adopted to prevent adverse impacts.

The resolution also calls upon states negotiating the establishment of new RFMOs to adopt and implement interim measures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems by December 2007.

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Bottom trawlers haul tons of fish out of the ocean, squeezing them against the sides of the nets. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
For areas where there are no RFMOs, states are called upon to stop authorizing their vessels to conduct bottom fishing until conservation and management measures are adopted.

During debate on the resolution, IUCN spokesman Harlan Cohen welcomed "the call for a closure to bottom fishing of areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems, including seamounts, hydrothermal vents and cold water corals, are known or are likely to occur."

But he said the IUCN is concerned that bottom trawling was not banned in areas where no regional fishery management organization is in place because these vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems are unprotected.

Stuart Beck of Palau, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said the Forum is disappointed that the resolution did not generate an immediate interim prohibition on bottom trawling in unmanaged areas.

Beck said the leadership of the Pacific Islands Forum met in October in Nadi, Fiji, where they agreed to "advance international efforts to institute an immediate interim prohibition on destructive fishing practices, including bottom trawling," in unmanaged areas beyond national jurisdiction.

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Spanish bottom trawler hauls aboard nets full of fish. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace Germany)
Beck said the Forum leaders felt that urgent action on destructive fishing practices is needed because these practices undermine the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity, which is so crucial to the way of life of small-island developing states.

To combat global warming, there is an interest in placing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide deep beneath the sea floor. This process would be governed by the Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, the London Convention, which took effect this year.

Cohen said the IUCN has greater concern about "a possible interest to sequester carbon through iron fertilization of the open ocean."

Iron fertilization is the intentional introduction of iron to the upper ocean to increase the marine food chain and to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Dumping iron in the ocean is known to spur the growth of plankton that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but preliminary research done in 1999 and 2002 indicates iron fertilization may not be the quick fix to climate problems that some had hoped.

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Harlan Cohen, IUCN advisor on ocean governance and international institutions. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
"IUCN considers that before any such large-scale fertilization takes place, environmental impact assessments should be conducted to examine the likely outcomes and effects of such activities," Cohen said.

He said the assessments should focus on determining whether iron fertilization "would actually sequester carbon dioxide on a long-term basis - that is in geological time - and whether such fertilization would have any harmful effects on regional ocean chemistry, including on pH levels, water clarity or marine biodiversity, either in the water column or on the benthos."

During the debate, Raymond Wolfe of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, told the General Assembly that transport of radioactive materials through Caribbean waters remains "of paramount concern."

Shipments of radioactive waste from Japanese nuclear power plants move through the Caribbean to Britain and France for reprocessing, and shipments of reprocessed nuclear fuel are sent back to Japan.

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The Pacific Swan, a British Nuclear Fuels ship carrying highly radioactive cargo, transits the Panama Canal towed by electric locomotive. January 2000. (Photo by Paul Leventhal, NCI)
CARICOM continues to implore states to examine alternative means of disposing of such materials and other toxic waste. "The damage and pollution that might flow from a nuclear waste-related accident would be devastating to lives and livelihoods in the region," said Wolfe.

Namira Negm of Egypt, expressing concern over destructive fishing practices, said that the international community had not adopted sufficient measures to protect the marine ecosystem and establish its sustainable development. She said damage to coral habitats is a real problem that must be tackled in the near future.

Kari Hakapaa of Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called for a "more integrated approach to the marine environment’s many threats."

He said the EU proposes that a conference be convened to agree on prompt action to conserve and manage biodiversity.

Hakapaa called for an implementation agreement to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to promote the conservation and management of marine biodiversity. This would support work towards achieving a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012, a commitment made by governments at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.