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Nandan opened the first Plenary Session by highlighting the hardships that will need to be overcome if a durable solution to the current fisheries crises is to be attained. He insisted that any solution will need to fall within the framework of UNCLOS, especially in view of its entry into force at the end of the year. He informed delegates of the developments that occurred since the end of the previous session. An FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas was adopted that will enter into force upon the receipt by FAO of the twenty-fifth instrument of acceptance. The work of the FAO on an International Code of Conduct on Responsible Fishing has commenced and ad hoc consultations were held on the role of regional fisheries agencies in relation to high seas fisheries statistics.

PROGRAMME OF WORK: Nandan said that delegates will have a chance to deliver general statements on the text and the Conference will then convene in informal sessions during the first week to consider the text section by section. In the second week, the Conference will concentrate on the key outstanding issues with a view to resolving them. If sufficient progress has been made, a revised text, issued by the end of the second week, will then be considered during the remaining days of the last week. Two open-ended technical working groups will also be held simultaneously with the Plenary dealing with the application of precautionary approaches and reference points to fisheries management. At the beginning of the second week, the question of the form of the final document will need to be addressed.

Hans Corell, the new counsel for the UN Office of Legal Affairs, said that UNCLOS provides the right framework in which to assess the problems and consider the means to address them. He also insisted that the interests of both the coastal States and the distant water fishing States have to be taken into consideration.

The European Union stated that there is no alternative to cooperation. He stressed the role of regional fisheries organizations and said that the multilateral approach is irreplaceable in carrying out the conservation of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.

Peru said that States cannot simply formulate recommendations at the Conference. The mandate is to adopt binding and efficient measures for conservation and management on the high seas.

Canada's statement was made by Fisheries and Oceans Minister, Brian Tobin, who said that Canada will not allow flag of convenience fishing vessels to profit from the conservation measures currently in place. He said that while the Law of the Sea provides a good foundation for fisheries management practices, it now needs to be built upon by agreeing on a high seas fisheries convention recognizing precautionary approaches, binding and compulsory dispute settlement mechanisms, compliance of internationally agreed conservation measures and the special interests of the coastal States.

Korea said the Conference should be fully consistent with UNCLOS and that cooperation should take place within regional frameworks recognizing the biological unity of fish stocks. Korea preferred a non-binding instrument.

Argentina stated that the uncontrolled situation of high seas fishing had a direct impact on straddling stocks. Conservation and management practices can be started before a binding instrument is achieved.

Japan argued that the present process should not include any new concepts or rights that go beyond the provisions of UNCLOS. Measures taken within the coastal State's jurisdiction should not be applicable to States fishing on the high seas until an international agreement is concluded and fishing and coastal States should participate on an equal footing. A cautious approach should be taken by the regional organizations but this should not lead to moratoria in the absence of scientific evidence. The distinction between straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks should also be recognized and enforcement on the high seas should be left to the flag States.

China explained that a degree of compatibility needs to be maintained between measures taken within EEZs and on the adjacent high seas, that enforcement on the high seas by States other than the flag State should be limited to boarding and inspection and that the outcome of the Conference should not be legally binding in order to avoid some difficult legal issues.

The United States strongly supported the ecosystem approach to maintain associated species, the precautionary approach in conservation and management issues, emphasized the need for regional and subregional cooperation, and recognized the need for assistance to help meet the needs of developing countries. Areas in the text needing additional work include looking at straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks throughout the whole range of distribution, recognizing biological and legal distinctions between the stocks as in UNCLOS, and giving more balance to the section in the draft on compatibility and coherence.

Samoa, speaking on behalf of the Forum Fisheries Agency, said that the Conference should address flag State responsibility. The text should emphasize the special requirements of developing countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Ecuador objected to any attempt to open the Law of the Sea Convention. The Conference aims are limited and clear-cut with a need for coherent management on the high seas.

The Russian Federation said the basic text should define the specific features of highly migratory fish stocks and straddling fish stocks.

FAO said that they have prepared two papers for the Conference and had convened a working group from 25 countries to consider the International Code of Conduct on Responsible Fishing for cirulation at the Conference.

A representative of Greenpeace said that measures should be taken regardless of whether the fishing impacts occur on the high seas or in EEZs, and that a precautionary approach should be the strong foundation of the measures taken. The social dimension of fisheries also needs to be taken into consideration. A legally binding document should be the outcome of this process.

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