From: Irwin Arieff, Reuters
Published May 24, 2006 12:00 AM

UN Conference Shies from Rewriting UN Fishing Pact

UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. conference reviewing a 1995 treaty aimed at protecting dwindling fish stocks on the high seas is unlikely to try to toughen the pact this year because it is still too new, the meeting chairman said Tuesday.

Instead, the week-long conference is expected to urge governments and regional fisheries managers to act on their own to better address overfishing and illegal fishing, said U.S. Ambassador for Oceans and Fisheries David Balton, who is leading the meeting.

The treaty was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1995 but entered into force just five years ago. It aims to conserve and manage stocks of fish that migrate through the high seas and areas under national jurisdiction.

"The goal is equitable and sustainable use," said Harlan Cohen of the World Conservation Union.

To date just 57 countries have ratified the pact, including the United States. But some major fishing nations, including China and Mexico, have vowed to steer clear of the pact until it can be revised to address their concerns.

Delegates plan to adopt a declaration recommending future actions before adjourning Friday.

But rather than try to rewrite the pact, "at this point, the general will of the group is to focus on practical means of implementation and application," Balton told reporters.

Roughly a quarter of world fish stocks are over-exploited, a quarter under-exploited, and half fully exploited -- meaning any higher catch would be unsustainable, according to the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.


Among the top threats to stocks are illegal and unregulated fishing, an oversupply of commercial fishing vessels and potentially damaging techniques such as bottom trawling, in which nets are dragged along the ocean floor.

Some governments and environmental groups have called for a moratorium on bottom trawling until scientists can better assess the extent of the damage it does.

But the industry wants a decision on this matter delayed at least until a U.N. General Assembly meeting later this year, said Javier Garat Perez of the International Coalition of Fisheries Association, an industry trade group.

A Greenpeace International study circulated at the meeting reported lax enforcement of existing laws by the regional organizations that manage fishing in most of the world's seas.

These groups are "more concerned with dividing up the fish stock pie than ensuring the long-term sustainable management of these rich marine ecosystems," Greenpeace's Karen Sack said in a report circulated at the conference. "This has got to change if there are to be fish and healthy oceans for the future."

Balton said bottom trawling was just one piece of the puzzle, involving just 1 percent or 2 percent of the global catch.

Among other steps being weighed by delegates, he said, were imposing limits on capacity in each fishery, tighter inspection rules at ports, better documentation of the origin of catches, placing independent observers on board some vessels, and requiring all fishing boats to carry satellite transponders disclosing their location to regulators.

Source: Reuters

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