Curtain raiser

1st Session of the FSA


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

At the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992, the Chairman of the MainCommittee (and formerly PrepCom Chair) Tommy T.B. Koh of Singaporerequested that the United States conduct informal consultations inorder to find compromise text on the issue of straddling and highlymigratory fish stocks, rather than allowing lengthy and acrimoniousdiscussions between Canada and the European Community. Twenty-fourhours later a compromise was in hand. The resulting text forparagraph 17.52 read: "States should convene an intergovernmentalconference under UN auspices with a view to promoting effectiveimplementation of the provisions of the Law of the Sea onstraddling and highly migratory fish stocks." The EC accepted thislanguage once text was added to say that the conference would drawon scientific and technical studies by the FAO and be fullyconsistent with the provisions of the Law of the Sea, in particularthe rights and obligations of coastal states and states fishing thehigh seas.


The UN General Assembly resolution establishing the Conference onStraddling Fish Stocks and Highly-Migratory Fish Stocks was one offive major resolutions on UNCED follow-up to be negotiated duringthe 47th General Assembly in 1992. The final text of UN Resolution47/192 of 22 December 1992 agrees to convene the IntergovernmentalConference for three weeks in July 1993 at UN Headquarters in NewYork. The Conference, drawing on scientific and technical studiesby FAO, should:

  • Identify and assess existing problems related to the conservation and management of highly-migratory and straddling fish stocks;
  • Consider means of improving fisheries cooperation among States; and
  • Formulate appropriate recommendations.

The resolution also states that an organizational session will beheld prior to the Conference to elect officers and determine theorganization of work. The Conference should complete its work "asearly as possible" in advance of the 49th session of the UNGA. TheConference will take into account relevant activities at all levelswith a view to promoting effective implementation of the provisionsof the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on straddling andhighly-migratory fish stocks. NGOs from developed and developingcountries are invited to contribute within the areas of theircompetence and expertise to the conference on the basis of UNCEDprocedures for their accreditation.


In January, Canada hosted a meeting of like-minded states in St.John's, Newfoundland, to begin preparations for the UN high seasfisheries conference. Most of the countries attending weredeveloping States with artisinal fisheries who were interested inthe protection of migratory species and regulation of unauthorizedexcursions by distant fishing fleets into their waters. Countriesopposed to such regulation or neutral on the issue were notinvited. All participants endorsed efforts to obtain alegally-binding UN agreement or treaty to regulate fishing on thehigh seas.

Four discussion papers were submitted on: management principles;fishing by States that are not members of the regional conservationorganization; surveillance, control, and enforcement on the highseas; and remedies for the violation of conservation measures.Finally, a report on the global overview of straddling and highlymigratory fish stocks was presented identifying those countrieswith a highly migratory species problem or a potential problem.


The organizational session for the Conference was held at UNHeadquarters in New York from 19-23 April 1993. The participantsadopted its rules of procedure and agenda, elected all but one ofits officers, appointed a Credentials Committee, and agreed on howits substantive work will be carried out and on its documentationrequirements. Satya N. Nandan (Fiji) was elected Chair of theConference. Nandan served from 1983-1992 as Under-Secretary-Generalfor Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea and Special Representativeof the Secretary-General for the Law of the Sea. The Conferencealso elected three of the four Vice-Chairs: Mauritania (for theAfrican States); Italy (for the Western European and Other States);and Chile (for the Latin American States). The election of aVice-Chair for the Eastern European States was deferred until theConference.

The following countries were appointed to the CredentialsCommittee: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Burundi, China, Kenya,New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Russian Federation and theUnited States.

The participants at the organizational session also agreed that:all substantive issues would remain the responsibility of thePlenary. In order to facilitate negotiations it was decided thatconsultations on specific issues would be assigned to ad hocworking groups or negotiating groups when appropriate. Due to thescientific and technical nature of substantive issues withtechnical content, delegations would include experts on fisheriesmatters. The Chairman should prepare a paper containing a list ofsubstantive subjects and issues as a guide for the Conference, anddelegations were requested to submit their proposals to theSecretariat by the end of May. Papers to be prepared by delegationsmust be without prejudice to any delegation on any matter, sincethe purpose of the papers is to guide the Conference on its futurework and should not be binding on any delegation or on theConference.


The organizational session requested that the Chair prepare a papercontaining a list of substantive subjects and issues. Thisdocument, A/CONF.164/10, "A guide to the issues before theConference prepared by the Chairman," lists the following issuesthat should be addressed:

  • What is the general nature of the measures that States must establish for the conservation and management of the two types of fish stocks?
  • How should the mechanism for cooperation in respect of the two stocks be established?
  • What should be the responsibilities of regional organizations or other regional arrangements concerning the two types of fish stocks?
  • How to ensure compliance with regional conservation and management measures?
  • How to ensure effective enforcement of the conservation and management measures established for a region or subregion in respect of a stock?
  • How to deal with vessels fishing in an area where a regional conservation and management regime for a particular high seas stock, established in accordance with the provisions of the Convention, applies and the flag State of the vessel does not cooperate with other States in the regional arrangements?
  • Without prejudice to recourse to the procedures contained in the Convention on the Law of the Sea for the settlement of disputes relating to the interpretation and application of the provisions of the Convention, what additional procedures and mechanisms are needed to resolve speedily, and on an ad hoc basis, disputes on matters of a technical nature arising from the implementation of the measures for the conservation and management of the two types of stocks in the high seas?
  • How to establish minimum international standards for the conservation of straddling fish stocks or highly migratory fish stocks, for application in the high seas of a subregion or region, which could also serve as a recommendation for adoption by coastal States as a minimum standard for the conservation of the same fish stock in the exclusive economic zone, without prejudice to the sovereign rights of coastal States over the living resources in that zone, as provided for in the Convention?


PLENARY: The Conference will open at 10:00 am in ConferenceRoom 2. The initial items on the agenda, as contained in documentA/CONF.164/5, are primarily procedural in nature: opening of theConference, election of the Chair, adoption of the rules ofprocedure, adoption of the agenda and election of officers otherthan the Chair. Other procedural matters to be discussed includethe organization of work and the credentials of representatives forthe Conference. After completion or postponement of theseprocedural items, the Plenary will turn to the substantive issuesand commence three days of general statements. During the generaldebate, look for signals of government positions on the followingissues: freedom to fish on the high seas versus the concept ofglobal commons; announcements regarding commitments to alegally-binding UN agreement or treaty regulating fishing practiceson the high seas; and the precautionary approach principle asapplied to fisheries.

NGO ACTIVITIES: The NGO Strategy Session will meet at both9:30 am and 6:30 pm in Conference Room C. These daily sessions willbe devoted to sharing of information and discussing conferenceactivities.

NGOs will also table a statement on straddling and highly migratoryfish stocks today. This call for global fisheries reform has beenendorsed by 55 NGOs from 25 countries. The primary emphasis of thestatement is fisheries conservation, environmental protection andrespect for the rights of traditional small-scale coastal fishingcommunities.


Non-state coalitions