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The UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks concluded its first substantive session at UN Headquarters in New York on 30 July 1993 after three weeks of intense negotiations on what may become an international convention. This Conference, one of the major outputs of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), was convened by the UN General Assembly in one of a series of resolutions designed to implement the decisions taken in Rio.

This Conference, which brought together many delegates responsible for negotiating the Law of the Sea with those involved in the UNCED process, addressed the divisive issue of the management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks on the high seas. According to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, straddling and highly migratory fish stocks include species occurring within the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of two or more coastal States or both within the EEZ and in an area beyond and adjacent to it. An EEZ is defined as an area extending beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea and does not extend beyond 200 miles from the baselines. Many of these stocks are among the most commercially valuable species and are, therefore, subject to intense fishing efforts. Recent reports have concluded that many straddling and highly migratory fish stocks are either over-exploited or depleted.

In his opening statement, the Chair of the Conference, Satya Nandan (Fiji) said that this gloomy outlook provides a great challenge to the international community. The issue before the Conference, he said, is not only to agree on management measures for the sustainable use of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks, but also to ensure that measures and mechanisms are in place to restore depleted stocks to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield. One of the critical challenges is for States to agree on arrangements that would ensure the harmonization of management regimes applicable to the two stocks in the high seas and the EEZs, without prejudice to the sovereign rights of a coastal State over the living resources of its EEZ, as provided for in the Law of the Sea Convention.

During the three-day general debate that followed, many of the delegates from 105 countries and the European Community, Intergovernmental Organizations, UN Agencies and Programmes and NGO representatives gave their opening statements. On the fourth day, the Chair directed the participants through formal discussions of each of the issues outlined in "A guide to the issues before the Conference prepared by the Chairman" (A/CONF.164/10). These issues included: the nature of conservation and management measures to be established through cooperation; the mechanisms for cooperation; responsibilities of regional fisheries organizations or arrangements; compliance with conservation and management measures; enforcement of high seas fisheries, conservation and management measures; non-parties to a regional agreement or arrangement; settlement of disputes on matters of a technical nature; and compatibility and coherence between national and international conservation measures for the same stocks. After the Plenary discussions, the Chair drafted working papers on each issue and conducted nearly two weeks of informal sessions based on these papers. Eventually, these redrafted papers formed the components of Chair's "Negotiating Text" (A/CONF.164/13), which was distributed on the last day of the Conference. Nandan made it perfectly clear that this text was neither a negotiated nor a consensus document, but a text prepared by the Chair after consulting with all delegations. This text will serve as the basis for negotiation at the next session of the Conference to be held in the Spring of 1994.

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