After two and one-half weeks of intense negotiations, conducted in informal Plenary, in select group informal consultations with the Chair, and in numerous peripheral caucus group activities, Satya Nandan has persevered to produce an enhanced Revised Draft Agreement, which delegates were able to take home.
Nandan's work programme slipped dramatically and delayed the review of his Draft Agreement by four days. Delegates, and especially Chile, expressed forthright reluctance to proceed with a speedy informal Plenary review of his two conference room papers produced only in English-language versions at the close of the second week. Nandan was forced to reschedule his programme of work and continued to conduct further informal consultations over issues of "enclaves" and compliance and enforcement. These informal consultations were not completed prior to the issuance of the Chair's Revised Draft Agreement, and China argued that the entire text in Articles 14 and 21 should remain bracketed until the final session.
The tensions that prevailed prior to the commencement of the session between the Canadian and EU delegations over high seas fishing conflicts on the Grand Banks spilled over into the Conference negotiations. Perceptions of flag States' erosion of rights in the Revised Draft Agreement came abruptly to the fore on Monday. Three-minute limits to interventions imposed by Nandan were initially breached by Chile, who spoke at length from a four-page list demanding new amendments. This later caused the EU to seek a second intervention, when it tabled a five-page list of amendments. These filibustering interventions led many to believe, and possibly the Chair, that work of the Conference had taken a three-year backwards step. Old rhetorical sentiment was quickly aroused, and DWFNs were accused of threatening to destabilize the Conference mandate to secure new conservation and management measures for SFS and HMFS.
Common sense seemed, however, to prevail at the closing Plenary session, with an unusually moderate statement from the EU, but still not sufficient to satisfy some coastal States, like Peru, who contend that the revised text represents a move toward maintaining DWFN rights and access to high seas resources.
All too often, the Conference negotiations have been seized in rhetorical saber rattling and sentimentality, reminiscent of an undersized turbot caught in a lined cod-end, while the oceans resources continue to decline.
If nothing else, the seizure of the Spanish fishing vessel "Estai" on the Grand Banks brought home to delegates, and a well-informed public, that the continuing pillage of the oceans cannot be sustained any longer. Since the convening of the Conference, the FAO's estimates of unsustainable fishing practices has continued to spiral. Nandan's closing statement represented a sober and determined call for all States to adhere to the concept of sustainability and conserve and manage the world's living marine resources for future generations.
Nandan's text reflects a greater concern for the protection of marine environment than originally existed in the preliminary discussions to produce a negotiating text. NGO persistence to include issues of environmentally safe and selective fishing gear, recognition of the needs and rights of artisanal and subsistence fishworkers, transparency in data information flow, and application of a precautionary approach to fisheries management, have all prevailed. The most remarkable change of heart came from delegates, who, during the organizational and procedural session, sought to prevent NGOs from participating even as observers, but now suddenly spoke up in warm support of the valued contribution of NGOs, not only to the work of the Conference, but also in developing the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing.
Conference participants at large should take some heart from the tumultuous seas that have been ridden to reach this juncture. The Revised Draft Agreement has much to commend it. Delegates should accept its balanced tuning and not delay its passage through the final session and towards ratification.
[Return to start of article]