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During the extensive negotiations of Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, "Protection of oceans, all kinds of seas including enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, coastal areas and the protection, rational use and development of their living resources," the issue of high seas fisheries proved to be among the most difficult. At the conclusion of PrepCom III, which was held in August 1991 in Geneva, straddling and highly-migratory fish stocks were one of five unresolved issues in the section on living marine resources. The issue proved so divisive that the Secretariat did not prepare text on high seas fisheries in its draft of Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 for the start of PrepCom IV, held in March 1992 in New York. For nearly four of the five weeks of PrepCom IV a contact group on marine living resources (Programme Areas C and D of Chapter 17) met behind closed doors and attempted to reach consensus. By the conclusion of PrepCom IV, consensus remained elusive and the Plenary adopted the Oceans chapter with brackets around the paragraphs on straddling and highly migratory fish stocks.

At the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992, the Chairman of the Main Committee (and formerly PrepCom Chair) Tommy T.B. Koh of Singapore requested that the United States conduct informal consultations in order to find compromise text on the issue of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, rather than allowing lengthy and acrimonious discussions between Canada and the European Community. Twenty-four hours later a compromise was in hand. The resulting text for paragraph 17.52 read: "States should convene an intergovernmental conference under UN auspices with a view to promoting effective implementation of the provisions of the Law of the Sea on straddling and highly migratory fish stocks." The EC accepted this language once text was added to say that the conference would draw on scientific and technical studies by the FAO and be fully consistent with the provisions of the Law of the Sea, in particular the rights and obligations of coastal states and states fishing the high seas.

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