UN General Assembly – High Seas Bottom Trawling To Continue Unchecked But The Tide Is Turning

Date: November 16, 2004

LATEST UPDATE: In a historic first address by Greenpeace to the UN and on behalf of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Karen Sack challenged world governments to safeguard the future of the oceans. Emphasising the need for urgent action on bottom trawling in accordance with the precautionary principle, Sack quoted the poet Kahlil Gibran – “a little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle”.

She invited delegates to visit a display outside the main hall showing some of the creatures that have been hauled up from the deep by high seas bottom trawlers over the past weeks and tossed back as waste, before concluding: “The environmental NGOs on whose behalf this statement is being made, believe that there is enough knowledge for states to take immediate action to ensure a vibrant, sustainable and equitable future for all of our oceans. Don’t let short-term needs sacrifice long-term viability. Take the opportunity of this anniversary to act, and meet the vision for clean and healthy oceans for now and for the future.”

Ten years ago the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea came into force, bringing management and coordination to the world’s oceans, but the treaty largely failed to anticipate the development of deep water fishing on the high seas. In 2004 the unique ecosystems of the vast, unregulated deep oceans are paying dearly for that lack of foresight. At the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) today (November 16th), on the very anniversary of the Law of the Sea Convention coming into force, delegates will debate weak and ineffective resolutions for high seas protection. In the negotiations leading up to this UNGA, one issue dominated the discussions on both Oceans and Fisheries — high seas bottom trawling — a fishing practice which is destroying entire and unique ecosystems and laying to waste to 5,000 year old coral reefs and the habitats they support. Despite calls for urgent action by environmental and conservation NGOs, scientists, progressive states, fishing interests and the UN itself, the only resolutions on high seas bottom trawling before the GA are too weak to offer protection and too ineffective to control the plunder. Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) Political Advisor Matthew Gianni said, “High seas bottom trawling is an immensely destructive practice, equivalent to ‘clear cutting’ the ocean floor. No one disagrees that immediate action needs to be taken to protect the irreplaceable habitats of the deep oceans but the UNGA failed to actually take it. Once again the international community has opted for talking over action. Countless species, many as yet unknown to science, will be lost as a result.” The DSCC, which represents members all over the world, has repeatedly called for the UN to impose a moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas. Despite the failure of the UN to take anything approaching such action at this year’s General Assembly, the DSCC says that there is cause for real optimism in the coming year. Matthew Gianni: “The tide is definitely turning. This is no longer a ‘minor’ issue which can be ignored. Several Nations fought long and hard to secure real protection for the habitats at risk, most notably Costa Rica, Norway, and New Zealand. The very fact that the issue dominated the discussions gives us real hope for progress to be made ahead of the General Assembly in 2005.” With plans already afoot to continue its campaign in 2005, the DSCC pointed to the main obstacles to progress, “Iceland and the EU led by Spain, are responsible for the UN’s failure this year”, said Matthew Gianni, “throughout the negotiations their stance was clear and we will be talking to them, and to the public, about this issue in 2005.” The Fisheries resolution that will go before the UNGA for debate today explicitly acknowledges the threat posed to deep sea ecosystems by bottom trawling but fails to call for collective or decisive action by the international community to prevent further damage. It only calls on countries individually or through Regional Fisheries Management Organisations to take action. The Oceans resolution calls for the establishment of a Working Group to “study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.” The DSCC is deeply concerned that the destruction of deep sea biodiversity will continue unchecked while nations study the issue. “We need interim protection for the deep seas while nations discuss long term solutions,” said Gianni. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition is an alliance of nearly 30 international organizations, representing millions of people in countries around the world. It is calling for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.

More information:

Watch the UN webcasts (real media):
Karen Sack’s speech.
Morning session (2 hours 56 minutes).
Afternoon session (2 hours 32 minutes).

Related documents:
General Assembly adopts texts on Law of Sea, Sustainable Fisheries, UNGA Press release, 17 November 2004.
Coalition member releases:
International Coalition Chides United Nations for failing to save oceans from devastation, 15 November 2004, Oceana. English / Spanish.
United Nations General Assembly fails to protect Deep Sea Life, 16 November 2004, Greenpeace International.
Greenpeace Address to UN: Save the Deep Sea, Greenpeace USA.
Related press coverage:
La UICN pide a la ONU una moratoria en el arrastre de fondo en alta mar, 26 November 2004, Fiel Amigo.
EU sabotages protection of deep sea coral, 23 November 2004, an article by key coalition members on oneworld.net. English / Spanish
Ocean bottom trawling ban urged by U.N. Disappoints scientists hoping for stronger measures, 18 November 2004, CNN.
U.N. Urges Temporary Bottom-Trawling Ban, by Nick Wadhams AP, Washington Post, 17 November, 2004
Greenpeace Challenges the United Nations at Historic General Assembly Address Environmental Media Services, 18 November, 2004.
Naciones Unidas Apoya la Destrucción de los Océanos, Jordi Berenguer, 16 November 2004, e-bulletin for www.ecoportal.net.
Critican a ONU por no aprobar moratoria de pesca de arrastre, 16 November 2004, El Mostrador.
Naciones Unidas arrastra a los oceanos al borde de la destruccion, article by Oceana, 16 November on website of Biodiversidad en America Latina.
Contra la pesca de arrastre , (Against bottom trawling) an article by Spanish novelist, Angeles Caso, in La Razon (pdf).
Protesta Alentada por Armadores: Un grupo de pescadores intenta asaltar el barco de Greenpeace atracado en el puerto de Vigo, 18 November 2004, 24horas.
Greenpeace continuara su campana en Vigo, 18 November 2004, Greenpeace Spain.
For further information please contact: Mirella von Lindenfels on ++ 44 20 8882 5041 or mobile ++ 44 (0) 7717 844 352

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