South Pacific States Move Closer to a Regional Fisheries Agreement

Date: October 20, 2008

A meeting to discuss the establishment of a South Pacific RFMO was held from 6 – 10 October, 2008 in Canberra, Australia

The negotiations are being held to close a gap in the international conservation and management of non-highly migratory fisheries and the protection of biodiversity in the marine environment in high seas areas of the South Pacific Ocean. The gap extends from the eastern South Indian Ocean, through the Pacific, towards the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of South America. Some species, especially orange roughy in the deep sea and the demersal stocks of jack mackerel near the Chilean EEZ, are already being fished, so the negotiations are being held to establish an organization with the competence to implement conservation and management measures in the area.

The UN General Assembly in 2006 called in resolution 61/105 for States to cooperate in the establishment of new fisheries management arrangements and to expedite the negotiations in the South Pacific, and repeated the call in 2007.

There are now over 20 states, as well as international organizations and NGOs, including the DSCC, engaged in this process. The first meeting took place in Wellington, New Zealand in February 2006, the second meeting took place in Hobart, Australia in November 2006, the third meeting took place from in May 2007 in Reñaca, Chile,the fourth meeting took place in September 2007 in Noumea, New Caledonia and the fifth meeting was held in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in March 2008.

The DSCC has been pushing for the SPRFMO to be a modern best practice RFMO. According to Duncan Currie who represented the DSCC at the meeting, “The SPRFMO participants in Renaca, Chile agreed a set of interim measures which are widely regarded as being the best implementation of the bottom trawling measures required by the General Assembly resolution to date, but implementation to date has been patchy and DSCC has been urging full and faithful implementation of the interim measures by the States engaged in bottom fishing, which include New Zealand, Australia, Belize and the Faroe Islands. To date only New Zealand has notified its implementation procedures, which so far lack required provisions for assessment.” On a positive note, he noted that there has been a tandam science process, to assist in implementation, including the development of data collection and monitoring standards.

The DSCC is concerned at the slow pace of the negotiations, and once the General Assembly in its 2008 sustainable fisheries resolution to call on the parties to conclude negotiations by Dec 31 2009 and to emphasise that there must be no fishing in the high seas in the absence of regulation and/or internationally agreed conservation and management measures, together with criteria or benchmarks against which regulation can be measured.

Currie: “The interim measures must be made fully binding upon the entry into force of the agreement pending replacement measures, all fisheries in the area must be closed until it is agreed to open them, assessments of both of the impacts of fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems and on the long term sustainability of deep sea stocks must be implemented, and the ‘footprint’ of bottom trawling be based on actual trawl tows. Anything short of that will not be in compliance with the commitments they made at the UN General Assembly.”

The next meeting will be in Lima, Peru from 18-22 May, 2009. In the meantime, DSCC will continue to press for full implementation of the interim measures.