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The United Nations Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks concluded its second substantive session at UN Headquarters in New York on March 31 1994 after three weeks of negotiations. 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.

The 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.

This session of the Conference resumed seven months after the close of the previous session in July, 1993. The delegates continued debate left unresolved at the end of the previous session and their review of the Chair's negotiating text (A/CONF.164/13*). The Chair of the Conference, Satya Nandan (Fiji), opened the first meeting of Plenary by highlighting the obstacles 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 in 1993 and 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.

Nandan then announced the program of work and said that after delegates had made general statements, the Conference would convene in informal sessions to consider document A/CONF.164/13*, the Negotiating Text, prepared by the Chair of the Conference on a section-by-section basis. He also said that informal working groups would be established to deal with the application of precautionary approach and reference points to fisheries management. He also mentioned that at one point, the delegates would need to address the issue of the final outcome of the Conference.

The first day of the Conference consisted of general statements and the Conference then convened in informals until the end of the second week when informal-informals were held to attempt to prepare a new "clean" version of the text. These sessions were held until the middle of the third week, and all NGOs were excluded. As a result, five days of negotiation out of fourteen were carried out behind closed doors. The Plenary resumed briefly on Wednesday when the Chair briefed the Conference on progress made during closed sessions. On the final day of the Conference the Chair produced a new version of his Negotiating Text (A/CONF.164/13/Rev.1).

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