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Conservation and management problems of high seas fisheries are not new to the UN system. During recent years the pressures on high seas fisheries brought about by relentless and sustained over-fishing practices have grown considerably. Delegates at the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) agreed upon a legal framework for the management of high seas fisheries, but the regime proved unworkable because the negotiators left conservation and management problems to be resolved between States at the regional and subregional level. As pressure on fish stocks grew in the late 1980s and early 1990s, bringing about the collapse of some valuable and important commercial species, the international community was forced to confront the problem of global over-fishing.

One forum that focused on the issue of global overfishing 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 the Food and Agriculture Organization (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."