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The second FAO information paper (A/CONF.164/INF/9) on Reference Points was first considered in Plenary on Monday morning 21 March. The FAO, while introducing the paper, said the principle of MSY was adopted in UNCLOS as a target for development or rebuilding of resources that would be efficient for humans and safe for the resource. But with an imperfect knowledge of fish population and dynamics and an incomplete understanding of socio-economic dynamics, future use of MSY as a management target is neither efficient nor safe. After initial Plenary consideration of the document, the Working Group was convened, initially under Conference Chair Nandan, who reminded delegates of the two management concepts contained in UNCLOS. MSY had to be dealt with as defined by UNCLOS and not abstractly in developing a revision of the negotiating text. Delegates supported his nomination of Dr. Andy Rosenberg (US) as Working Group Chair. The delegates who participated in the working group consisted of technicians and scientists.

Initial discussion focused on the procedural framework for developing a revised text and endorsing the authoritative text of the FAO document. The Chair's draft outline plan of action, which included the five main points for consideration by the Working Group, was circulated to delegates. This action plan provided the basis of work throughout the Working Group sessions consisting of: (1) an introduction to illustrate the context of the issue and its relationship with both BRPs and the Precautionary Approach; (2) the importance of setting management objectives and their inter-relationships; (3) distinguishing between management targets and conservation reference points (or limit thresholds); (4) the concept of uncertainty and its estimation, and; (5) concept linkage and practical implementation of management.

The outdatedness of the MSY concept was noted and one delegate said it should, in future, only be treated as a philosophical reference point rather than a mathematical one.

Underlining the need to define objectives to prevent unsustainable fishing, a delegate suggested that the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) concept of "safe biological units" could be developed. The FAO said that some reference points are strategic to the management of fisheries while others are purely tactical. The need to recognize the importance of non-target species and the ecosystem approach was emphasized by another delegate. Noting the comments made, Rosenberg invited written submissions that would help develop a text.

The written submissions from six delegations and two NGOs were incorporated into a six-page draft text made available to delegates on Tuesday, 22 March. Emphasizing the need to strive for technical consensus, the draft text was considered by the Working Group on a section-by-section basis. A DWFS delegate expressed a desire to see the text referenced back to the FAO document, but the guidelines needed to be flexible for practical fisheries management purposes. The enshrining of references, such as had happened to MSY, was not considered desirable. Reference points require updating in the light of improved data and technological advancement.

The "biological unit" concept was supported by several delegates, but the FAO preferred for such recognition to be in general, the terms to be agreed by scientists and technicians. One delegate emphasized the need to amplify all forms of fish mortality, especially toxin-induced. This was supported by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the IOC and was further elaborated in a briefing paper submitted by the Swedish delegation.

DWFS and coastal State delegates argued for "State" neutrality within the text. The Chair was concerned throughout to avoid inclusion of the sensitive issues of compatibility and coherence in the text. The FAO advised of the need to identify global models of management and urged the Working Group to consider issues analytically for the development of separate reference points for breeding and spawning areas.

Alternative language for "non-target" species was suggested in the form of incidental catch, bycatch or multispecies terminology, although establishing reference points for non-target species would be difficult to manage in practice.

Majority consensus was achieved throughout the final session, with the exception of drafting problems on Section I paragraph 4. This paragraph promotes the biological unity of stocks throughout their entire range of distribution. Chile could not accept this provision and endeavored to seek enhanced coastal State rights over straddling stocks, rather than accepting the concept of biological unity. It was not possible to reach consensus on this paragraph, with two other Like-Minded core group members speaking up in favor. The revised text was forwarded to Nandan with a covering caveat. The Like-Minded preferred text became a contentious issue in Plenary.

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