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The problems associated with high seas fisheries management are not new to the UN system. Participants at the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) were well aware of the issue; however, attempts to deal with it during the course of the ten years of negotiations that concluded in 1982 were not successful. The negotiators decided to leave such problems to be resolved between States concerned with high seas fisheries at the regional and subregional level. During recent years the pressures on high seas fisheries brought about by systematic and sustained over-fishing practices have grown considerably. The problem of global over-fishing has become an international responsibility requiring urgent resolve.

A number of events in the early 1990s indicated that an international conference should be convened to resolve issues related to high seas fisheries. One forum where this was discussed was the Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED). After long and difficult negotiations, participants at the Earth Summit in Rio agreed to 'convene an intergovernmental conference under UN auspices with a view to promoting effective implementation of the provisions of the Law of the Sea on straddling and highly migratory fish stocks'.

The resolution establishing the Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (47/192) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 22 December 1992. The resolution states that the Conference, drawing on scientific and technical studies by FAO, should: identify and assess existing problems related to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks (SFS) and highly migratory fish stocks (HMFS); consider means of improving fisheries cooperation among States; and formulate appropriate recommendations. The resolution also stipulated that the Conference should complete its work 'as early as possible'.