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The United Nations Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks concluded its fourth substantive session at UN Headquarters in New York on 12 April 1995. This Conference, one of the major outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), was called for 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 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with those involved in the UNCED process, addressed the divisive issue of the management of straddling fish stocks (SFS) and highly migratory fish stocks (HMFS) on the high seas. According to UNCLOS, SFS and HMFS 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 that shall not extend beyond 200 miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

Many of these stocks are among the most commercially valuable species and are, therefore, subject to intense and unregulated fishing effort on the high seas. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recently concluded that over 70% of the world's fish stocks are at maximum exploitation levels or beyond sustainable harvest levels.

Ambassador Satya N. Nandan, Chair of the Conference, opened the session by outlining the programme of work proposed by the Bureau. Nandan reflected on his attendance at two intersessional meetings, the first in Tokyo and the second in Geneva. He indicated that areas of compatibility of conservation measures, new participants, enforcement and the desirability of using the provisions of UNCLOS with respect to the settlement of disputes had involved much discussion.

He underlined the deteriorating state of the world's fisheries as outlined in a recent FAO report and said that in order to facilitate stock rehabilitation, action is needed on: the control of fishing effort and the reductions of the industry's over-capacity; resource allocation decisions; the establishment of more effective users' rights; improved decision-making on resource use; and the adoption of precautionary approaches to fisheries conservation and management.

Nandan reminded delegates that they must find practical and effective solutions so that fisheries resources can be utilized in an orderly and sustainable manner to bring order to the oceans and promote cooperation among States. Recent incidents involving fishing vessels on the high seas underscored the urgency to find solutions and he called for restraint to be exercised so that multilateral solutions can be found to global problems.

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