Agenda setting in Portugal

Date: May 31, 2006

Will the Government of Portugal, one of the European countries that holds the key to resolving the high seas trawling controversy at the United Nations, make a move to secure a strong majority in favour of a high seas bottom trawl moratorium within the European Union? It is too early to say, but there was a ray of hope yesterday in Lisbon at the DSCC Workshop “High Seas Marine Biodiversity:

The Bottom Trawling Challenge and the Role of Portugal”, attended by eminent representatives of Portugal’s academic, policy and NGO community, together with senior government officials. In his opening remarks, the State Secretary for the Environment, Dr. Humberto Rosa seemed to validate the DSCC assessment of high seas bottom trawling as a major threat to marine biodiversity. “High seas bottom trawling is an unsustainable activity,” he said. “We have a strategic opportunity. We have a large fish consumption, we are fishers too and we want to conserve marine biodiversity.” Acknowledging the need to address the situation of fishermen liable to be affected by a temporary prohibition of high seas bottom trawling, Dr. Rosa indicated that a fishing method with such an adverse impact was not consistent with the direction that Portugal needs to take. “Portugal will go down the road of transition towards non-destructive fishing techniques… and ensure the sustainability of resources.

We are at a unique moment to protect the commons.” Host and facilitator of the DSCC workshop, Charles Buchanan, President of the Luso-American Foundation, said that his foundation decided to support the workshop because it was important for all parties to work together and address such issues and to identify solutions that conserve and protect the wealth of biodiversity in the high seas for future generations. “Environmentalists are often perceived as ‘preaching in a desert’, but this is definitely not the case with high seas bottom trawling,” said DSCC Political Adviser Rémi Parmentier. Parmentier said that since the DSCC was formed nearly three years ago, several dozens of policy and decision-makers, scientific and other institutions have joined the global call for a UN General Assembly moratorium. The latest addition of Portugal’s three largest environmental organisations to the coalition, brings the total number of member organisations worldwide to sixty. Two eminent deep sea explorers and scientists, Dr. Alex Rogers from the London Zoological Society and Professor Ricardo Santos from the University of the Azores captivated the audience with films and data on their most recent discoveries, showing that it is irresponsible to destroy species and habitats which humankind only recently started to access.

Seamounts are the hosts of countless endemic species that we have a duty to conserve for future generations. DSCC co-founder Matthew Gianni, a former fisherman from the West Coast of the United States turned marine conservation activist, gave a thorough exposé on the political debate at the United Nations. Gianni came to Lisbon from New York where he attended a review conference of the 1995 UN Agreement for the conservation of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. “The momentum for a moratorium continues to build, with Brazil and Norway voicing new support last week in New York,” Gianni said. “In Europe, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Belgium have recently made statements in support of a UN moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.” (1) In two weeks time, the UN Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law the Sea will discuss the implementation of the ecosystem approach to marine biodiversity conservation in New York. The protection of deep sea biodiversity from bottom trawl fishing is a test-case for the implementation of the UN Fisheries treaty and the commitment of countries to collectively strengthen oceans governance and apply the ecosystem approach in the international waters of the world’s oceans. The last speaker was Dr. Monica Verbeek, Fisheries officer from Seas-at-Risk, a European-wide network of NGOs. She underlined the special responsibility of Portugal within the European Union. According to the best information publicly available, high seas bottom trawling represents no more than 0.12% of the number of vessels in Portugal’s fishing fleet, employing around 1.6% of registered fishermen in Portugal, based on a total catch of 12,776 tonnes in 2004. “It would be incomprehensible for Portugal not to support a moratorium at the UN given its traditional support for enhanced global ocean governance and conservation”, Verbeek said.

Notes: (1) Stop the Clocks!

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