High time for high seas: timeout on bottom trawling key to sustainable oceans

Date: June 6, 2005

As the United Nations Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS) meeting begins today, the international community faces a crisis of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.   The high seas make up the majority of the world’s oceans and large parts of the high seas are devoid of effective internationally agreed controls for activities such as high seas bottom trawling making it the single biggest area open to abuse and exploitation.

Fishing is stripping the bio-diversity of the world’s oceans and primary amongst the unregulated threats facing the deep seas is high seas bottom trawling, a fishing practice universally accepted as the most destructive in use and which wipes out entire ecosystems for the sake of a few commercially valuable species. Scientists estimate that if urgent action is not taken to regulate bottom trawling, most deep sea fish stocks on the high seas caught today will be commercially extinct in 20 years. For the past three years, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) has responded to the UNICPOLOS calls for urgent action to be taken. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) is calling for UNICPOLOS this year to send a strong recommendation to the UNGA for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. Matthew Gianni, Political Advisor to the DSCC said: “The tide is turning. UNICPOLOS cannot simply call for action again, it has to play a part in precipitating it and the ground work is now there for that to happen.   Countries which had previously opposed and blocked measures to protect the high seas are now changing their positions and we have a real opportunity to finally translate the fine words into a commitment to take concrete action.” The major obstacles to progress thus far have been Iceland and the EU lead by Spain but there has been a strong shift in the stances taken by individual EU countries during the last few months, with Spain (the single biggest high seas bottom trawling nation—at least among those States reporting their catch), accepting that the practice is a highly destructive and proposing limited measures for addressing it. This week the UNICPOLOS will discuss the contribution of fisheries to sustainable development. Without sustainable and effective management of the world’s fisheries and oceans beyond national jurisdiction, deep-sea fisheries, together with many irreplaceable habitats and unique species will be quickly wiped out and many may be lost forever.   Matthew Gianni: “It is high time that the high seas were firmly on the agenda for action. Until the global commons of the high seas are subject to proper management, IUU fishing will continue to flourish.   Unless bottom trawling in these areas is controlled, there will be very little left to manage.  Tackling bottom trawling is the key to unlocking a genuinely sustainable approach.” The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition is an alliance of over 40 international organizations, representing millions of people in countries around the world. It is calling for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling until the nations of the world can establish strong management measures for deep-sea fisheries and protect biodiversity on the high seas.

Contact: Susan Cavanagh on +1 202 413851 or + 31 621 296 910 More information:Linkages Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) daily reports from UNICPOLOS are available in English, French and Spanish. Joint NGO Statement to UNICPOLOS, June 2005, Spanish version (pdf)  Cristian Maquieira, de la Cancillería chilena: “Estamos por favorer la moratoria en alta mar, pero la decisión al interior de las zees, son de responsabilidad exclusiva del estado costero”