Initial impressions of the outcome this year’s meeting of the UNICPOLOS from the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition team in New York. The negotiations finished at about one o’clock this morning. There were moments of real drama as countries grappled for real action just as others tried to prevent it. New Zealand and Costa Rica with support from Mexico and others, fought hard to get a call for urgent and targeted action to protect deep-sea ecosystems on the high seas, in spite of the fatigue, the lateness of the hour and the clear frustration of many delegations that the negotiations were dragging on.
Palau, Fiji and Nigeria called for a moratorium. Chile called for an ‘interim prohibition’ on bottom trawl fishing where there are no regional fisheries management organizations. Under clear pressure from the Spanish distant water fishing industry, the EU proposed that any reference to “bottom trawling” should be deleted from the text. Unfortunately, the EU succeeded. Fortunately, the General Assembly specifically declared last year that bottom trawl fishing can be destructive to deep-sea ecosystems and called for urgent action to protect seamounts, cold-water corals and other vulnerable ecosystems from bottom trawling on the high seas. While the EU was effectively paralyzed and unable to move forward on this issue, even the EU can’t turn back the clock. Norway’s response was, in effect, how could UNICPOLOS not mention bottom trawling in the final text of the meeting after talking about it all week? Norway has a long-standing position that there should be no bottom trawl fishing on the high seas where there are no effective management organizations to regulate these fisheries – about three quarters of the international waters of the world’s oceans. Even Iceland, a staunch opponent of taking ‘global’ action, clearly acknowledged that there is a real problem and that deep-sea corals and other vulnerable ecosystems must be protected. In the end, UNICPOLOS did not agree to recommend that the UN General Assembly declare a moratorium on bottom trawl fishing on the high seas, even in ‘free for all’ areas where no regional organization exists to regulate these fisheries. Nevertheless we have come out of the UNICPOLOS meeting still moving forward. Governments agreed that the issue has not gone away and that they still have not solved the problem. At the beginning of the week, many of the delegates made it very clear to us that they did not want to even discuss the issue after the ‘bruising’ negotiations at the UN General Assembly last October. But by Friday, after hearing the repeated concerns expressed by scientists, NGOs, and conservation minded countries all week, they decided that they had to, and the initial reluctance to negotiate changed to genuine interest on the part of many of the countries represented in the room last night to try and come up with a workable plan of action. UNICPOLOS only sends a set of recommendations to the UN General Assembly. The General Assembly will come back to this issue when the new session of the General Assembly opens in September. Between September and November, governments will have ample opportunity to continue the negotiations. The DSCC will be there, working with governments in capitals and in New York. We look forward to continuing the good fight.