Fifth Meeting to Establish a South Pacific RFMO: What about implementation?

Date: March 24, 2008

– Guayaquil, Ecuador.

The Fifth meeting to discuss the establishment of a South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SP RFMO) wrapped up week long negotiations on March 14, 2008 in Guayaquil, Ecuador, though details on implementation of interim measures agreed upon at the Renaca meeting in 2007 were woefully lacking.

While for the first time, participants addressed a number of important aspects that needed airing, it is clear that much more work needs to be done before the SP RFMO can implement a leadership role incorporating an ecosystem approach to fisheries management for the conservation of and protection of marine living resources, including vulnerable marine ecosystems, as mandated by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 61/105.

Under this 2006 resolution, States individually and through RFMOs were asked to take action immediately consistent with the precautionary and ecosystem approaches to sustainably manage fish stocks and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems. To do this, States participating in negotiations for new RFMOs, were required to adopt and implement measures by December 31, 2007. While the SP RFMO did adopt interim conservation measures last year, implementation of those measures is lagging far behind.

Only one government, New Zealand, presented a draft detailed plan for implementing conservation and management measures, while others continue to license bottom fishing vessels; none of these governments fishing presented similar implementation details, nor were they willing or able to address or discuss this issue in detail during the meeting. The New Zealand scheme, while relatively advanced, is still only in interim stages and at this point lacks full implementation of conservation and management measures for all areas where VMEs are known or likely to occur. Much more work needs to be done on them to make them fully consistent with the UNGA mandate. And it is urgent that other countries develop their own implementing measures, as Australia, Belize (Chinese charterer) and the Faeroes are known to have vessels that have bottom trawled in the last year.

Duncan Currie, representing the DSCC at the meeting, stated that “It is ironic that the very same implementation measures adopted to sustainably manage fishing, have caused a rush to fish, with an astronomical rise in fishing effort in the SP RFMO area. While governments are taking their time implementing measures, let’s hope there is something left to fish by the time they finalize the Convention.”

On the positive side, much of the meeting was carried out in small working group mode, allowing frank discussion on issues that could seriously forestall the establishment of the SP RFMO, (including compatibility of measures between distant water fishing nations and coastal States, establishment of a subregional management committee, and decision-making processes), and all sides felt that the door was left open for future progress. During the prior week, March 3-7, the Scientific Working Group and Data and Information Working Group met and made progress, facilitating the adoption during the meeting of Standards for the Collection, Reporting and Exchange of Data, including the type of data to be collected. However, with a number of more controversial issues taking time, some issues such as port and flag state duties had to be deferred to future meetings.

Some of the most active governments participating in the discussions included Chile, New Zealand, Australia, European Union, Russia, China, Peru, Canada, United States, Belize, Faroe and Cook Islands, and Federated States of Micronesia. DSCC member organization Greenpeace International also participated in the negotiations, as well as World Wildlife Fund and IUCN; DSCC member ECO was represented on the New Zealand delegation. A number of fishing industry members were also present, both as organizations, and on various government delegations.

The Sixth meeting for discussions to establish the SP RFMO will take place from October 6-10 in Canberra, Australia. This will be crucial timing since a report will be prepared and reviewed by the UN General Assembly in 2009 on the performance of States and RFMOs in meeting their obligations under resolution 61/105, based on an assessment of progress through December 31, 2008.