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Battle lines were drawn early on the question of applying the precautionary approach to fisheries management. The EC, Japan and Korea argued that the precautionary approach is taken directly from Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration, which applies to pollution, and that it cannot be translated automatically to fisheries management. They expressed concern that the use of the precautionary approach may, at times, be equated with the application of moratoria unless the user can demonstrate that fishing has no adverse impact on the stock.

Other countries, including Australia, Norway, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Iceland, Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago, the Solomon Islands and the US, argued that there is no doubt that the precautionary principle, as set out in the Rio Declaration, has relevance in all fields of natural resources management. There is a general obligation to apply precaution, but the lack of full certainty is not a reason to postpone such measures. The depletion of stocks are the accidents that point to the need for "traffic lights," even in the absence of compelling statistics. In addition, application of this principle does not necessarily imply such negative measures as moratoria.

Some countries, including the Philippines and Poland, said that precautionary measures should be looked at with prudence and caution. Sweden felt that the precautionary principle has been used in handling environmental issues such as biodiversity and that, in relation to fisheries, this principle has to be further elaborated. Brazil, supported by Samoa and Argentina, said that the precautionary approach is controversial, but there is no reason why it should not be applied to fisheries.