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FAO began the session with an introduction to its paper on the concept on the Precautionary Approach in fisheries management. This paper outlines the confusion between Precautionary Approach and the Precautionary Principle which results from slack usage of the terms. Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration defines what the most relevant definition would be for this Conference - "the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation".

Seven main points were presented: (1) the precautionary approach gives the benefit of doubt to the resource; (2) precaution is not new; (3) precautionary approach requires preventive action; (4) the need to agree to minimum standards, reference points, and critical thresholds while recognizing the potentially non-precautionary nature of the MSY reference; (5) quantitative criteria and standards required for precautionary ecosystem management; (6) fisheries must have an impact on the resources and the ecosystem if they are to play a role as a human life-support system; and (7) the precautionary approach requires substantial support from fishery research.

In the discussion that followed, one delegation argued that the precautionary approach cannot be used as an excuse not to use scientific research. Another stated that any management decisions must take into account the biological unity of the stocks in question and that the precautionary approach should apply to all stocks across the board. Another delegate said that strategies for fishing management should be based on optimizing the dialogue between man and nature, and we should come up with a decision that favors nature. Others said that the precautionary approach cannot be used as an excuse for not having proper commercial exploitation of species. Application of the precautionary approach at the regional level should be coordinated with the regional organizations.

Several delegations said that action taken inside the EEZs are useless if no action is taken outside. Reference was made again to L.11/Rev.1, as the proposals in this document would focus attention on practical aspects of the approach. Several delegations suggested that the working group give content to the precautionary approach. Some expressed reservations about the precautionary approach, as research indicates that it applies solely to marine degradation and not to fisheries.

Moratoria must not be confused with the concept of the precautionary principle. Several delegations said that such a drastic measure must be based on solid scientific information. Others said that moratoria would not be necessary if fishery managers acted in cautious ways in their decision making, and that moratoria should have deadlines. It was pointed out that the draft North Pacific Donut Hole Convention sets specific biomass thresholds and that moratoria would automatically apply to it.

A delegate said that before imposing management measures, the situation of small island States should be considered since resources are scarce for use of scientific measures. The economic and social concerns of local communities should also be taken into account. Two NGOs said that the precautionary approach should be fully integrated into management decisions and that it should apply to all stocks, and not only once problems arise.

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