UN: EU statement on sustainable fisheries

United Nations, General Assembly, 61st Session, Plenary; Agenda items 71(a): Oceans and the law of the sea and 71(b): Sustainable fisheries

Statement by Mr. Kari Hakapää, Professor, Special Adviser, Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN, on behalf of the European Union

New York, 7 December 2006

Mme. President,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and the European Community as a Party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Countries Croatia *) and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*), the countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, as well as the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration.

Mme. President,

The plight of  the oceans is well-known and not contested. Destruction of ecosystems, threats to fish, loss of marine biodiversity are all widely recorded by scientific fact and data.

The concerns over the future of the oceans were shared by all participants in the consultations producing this year's draft omnibus resolution on the oceans and the law of the sea, ably coordinated by Mr. Carlos Duarte of Brazil, to whom we are grateful for his enduring efforts to reach consensus.

The international community has not remained indifferent to the threats to the ocean environment. Past decades bear witness of numerous measures - national, regional, global - taken to encounter the challenge. Since its adoption, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has provided  the basic legal framework for such efforts as well as for any activities in the oceans.

Within that framework, however, more concerted  action is needed to preserve the oceans for future generations. In taking up this mission, one should not any longer look at the oceans and seas on a purely sectoral basis, but as a whole, taking an integrated approach to the many threats to the marine environment. As stated in the preamble of the  draft omnibus resolution, we have to recognize "that the problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be considered as a whole through an integrated, interdisciplinary and intersectoral approach".

The need for such an integrated approach was underlined last June by the seventh meeting of  the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea  (ICP) which focussed on "Ecosystem approaches and oceans". The meeting highlighted efforts undertaken to enable the integrated management of human activities based on the best available science and the precautionary principle in order to achieve sustainable use of goods and services and the maintenance of ecosystem integrity. The European Union endorses the invitation of the draft omnibus resolution to States to consider the  consensual elements relating to ecosystem approaches and oceans agreed by the Consultative Process and set out in the report of its meeting.

Concrete, comprehensive and timely action is called for to achieve the results envisioned. Within the European Union, a Communication on a possible EU Maritime Policy was published by the European Commission last summer. This Communication outlines ideas forward to address maritime affairs in a comprehensive and holistic way. Furthermore, a consultation process has been launched open to all stakeholders.

The European Union has in various fora expressed its serious concern for the protection and preservation of marine biodiversity, in particular, in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Alarming loss of marine biodiversity calls for effective action without delay. The Union has put forward a proposal for the elaboration of an implementation agreement to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea regarding the protection and preservation of marine biodiversity. At the meeting of the ICP last June, the European Union also introduced possible elements for inclusion in such an agreement.

As we see it, the Law of the Sea Convention provides the framework to address the benefits of an integrated, cross-sectoral approach to the protection of marine biodiversity. This is particularly important in the situation in which we find ourselves where there is no other agreed international legal basis to adopt such key international measures to protect marine biodiversity as the establishment of marine protected areas beyond national jurisdiction. In the opinion of the European Union an implementation agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is  an important contribution to achieving the WSSD commitment to have a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012.

In view of the urgent nature of the conservation and management of biodiversity, the European Union proposes prompt action to be taken in terms of convening a Conference to establish such an implementation agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The European Union supports the decision contained in the draft omnibus resolution to request the Secretary-General to reconvene a meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group established by General Assembly resolution 59/24 to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction. The Working Group's first meeting last February addressed numerous issues of relevance providing good basis for future discussions. The European Union is, however, concerned that the time for the international community to act is running out.

The European Union also appreciates that the draft resolution will facilitate the deliberations of  the Working Group by specifying the items the Working Group should focus on in its forthcoming meeting, all of them of obvious importance for a better protection and preservation of marine biodiversity.

The European Union attaches particular importance to subparagraph (e) of paragraph 91 of the draft resolution. The Working Group shall consider whether there is a governance or regulatory gap relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, and if so, how it should be addressed. The European Union has been studying this matter over the last years and came to the conclusion that the best way to address the existing governance gaps is an implementation agreement under the Law of the Sea Convention. The European Union looks forward to sharing its ideas and entering into a constructive dialogue to find effective, lasting, solutions for the threats that marine biodiversity faces beyond national jurisdiction.

Mme. President,

This year marks a turning point in our common efforts to promote increased adherence to the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement and to strengthen its implementation. The Review Conference held last May under article 36 of the Agreement issued strong recommendations in accordance with its mandate, which were agreed by all participants, both contracting and non-contracting parties. At the core of these recommendations lies the central role that Regional Fisheries Management Organizations are called to play in the governance of fishing in the high seas. The European Union places great emphasis on the need to continue the reinforcement of these organizations and to ensure that they are established in all areas of the world's oceans as a matter of urgency.

The elimination of destructive fishing practices is an objective we all share. We took a  clear and explicit commitment in this respect under the Johannesburg Plan of Action. The international debate on this crucial issue, including the recent review of progress made in response to the call for urgent action made by this General Assembly in 2004, has been lively and extremely enlightening. The agreement we have reached under this year's resolution is important, though the European Union would have preferred a stronger outcome. It is now for Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, and for States in respect of their flagged vessels, to assume that fishing that has adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems must be tightly regulated to prevent such impacts, or prohibited when prevention is not possible. There must be full transparency and mutual scrutiny on the measures taken to achieve this objective. Also, more resources should be allocated to improve marine scientific  research. States and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations must responsibly discharge the duties they have contracted under the law of the sea and be ready to stand accountable before the international community. The protection of the marine environment, and in particular Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, is a common responsibility.  The European Union is committed to taking expeditious action in conjunction with partners in following up on what has been agreed at the General Assembly.

Accordingly, the European Union restates the imperative need to make qualitative steps forward in compliance and enforcement and in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. This scourge continues to be a major obstacle to sustainable fishing and to the conservation of the marine environment. The European Union welcomes the recommendations made by the UN Fish Stocks Agreement Review Conference in this respect and their endorsement by the General Assembly, and hopes they will pave the way for decisive action in the months to come.

Speaking on fisheries, we would also like to take this opportunity to express our warm thanks to Ms. Holly Koehler of the United States of America for coordinating, once again with skill and patience, the consultations on the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries.

Mme. President,

The European Union notes with appreciation several positive developments in the law of the sea over the past year.

The draft omnibus resolution duly expresses satisfaction over the progress of work of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. As the Commission's workload is growing, it is imperative  to ensure that the Commission may continue to perform its functions effectively as well as maintain its high level of expertise.

The contract signed in July 2006 between Germany and the International Seabed Authority regarding the exploration of polymetallic nodules in an area in the Pacific Ocean signifies an important milestone in the Authority's activities as it refers to the first application for a plan of work since the entry into force of the Convention and the earlier pioneer investor applications.

The draft resolution also notes the first meeting of the Ad hoc Steering Group for the "assessment of assessments" launched as a preparatory stage towards the establishment of the regular process for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, including socio-economic aspects. As we have pointed out, the European Union sees the Assessment as an important vehicle for improved cooperation between the agencies of the United Nations and other bodies. We also foresee it to offer a firm basis for improved oceans policy-making.

The European Union recognizes the important work done in various fora, including the International Maritime Organization and the International Labour Organization, as mentioned in Section VIII of the draft omnibus resolution, on "Maritime safety and security and  flag State implementation".

In this context, the European Union would also like to stress the importance of the principle of freedom of navigation and the rights of innocent passage and transit passage in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In this respect, the EU reaffirms its view that the laws and regulations adopted by States bordering straits used for international navigation relating to transit passage through straits, in accordance with the Convention, shall not discriminate in form or in fact among foreign ships or in their application have the practical effect of denying, hampering or impairing the right of transit passage. In addition, the EU would like to stress that port States should exercise their sovereignty in relation to the management of their ports in a manner that is non-discriminatory and consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other relevant international law.

Mme. President,

All members of the international community should have full opportunity to benefit from the applicable legal regimes over ocean uses. In practice, however, there is not always such opportunity in  lack of available resources for effective enjoyment of the regimes. In the draft omnibus resolution, well-placed attention is drawn to the assistance and support to the developing States, with a view to, inter alia, better intergrating sustainable and effective marine development into national policies and programmes. The European Union places much importance in full possibility to all States to participate in the application of the rules and principles of the law of the sea.

We would also like to emphasize the continued need for more information and better understanding of the marine environment and its vulnerable ecosystems. In the context, the Informal Consultative Process has an important role to play. We recognize the compromise reached on topics to be taken up in coming years, referring to two sets of important issues: "Marine genetic resources" for 2007 and "Maritime security and safety" for 2008.

At the same time, we recognize that some improvement in the workings of the Consultative Process still remains to be done. A program overloaded with panels and consultation may not contribute in the best possible way to attaining its high objectives.

Mme. President,

In conclusion, we would like to express our appreciation to the Secretariat, the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, for the professional work done over the past  year. Not least does this apply to the preparation of the annual report on oceans and the law of the sea which has proven out to be an invaluable tool for law of the sea discussions. Our best wishes are also due to colleagues at DOALOS shortly to retire, including the Director of  DOALOS, Mr. Vladimir Golitsyn.

Thank you, Mme. President.

* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.