UN Ocean Conference Warns Against IUU Fishing, Harmful Subsidies
Photo by IISD/Mike Muzurakis
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The UN Ocean Conference's third day included a plenary meeting as well as two partnership dialogues, on ‘Making fisheries sustainable’ and ‘Increasing economic benefits to small island developing States and least developed countries and providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets'.

Delegates also discussed the challenge of converting the voluntary commitments to action on the ground.

7 June 2017: On the third day of the UN Ocean Conference, UN Member States drew attention to institutional developments for implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and highlighted commitments to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to increase coverage of marine protected areas (MPAs) in their territorial waters. The Conference is focusing on efforts to achieve the targets under SDG 14 (life below water) and related SDGs and targets.

The UN Ocean Conference is convening at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 5-9 June 2017. The third day included a plenary meeting continued from the first and second days, as well as two partnership dialogues, on ‘Making fisheries sustainable’ (Partnership Dialogue 4) and ‘Increasing economic benefits to small island developing States (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) and providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets’ (Partnership Dialogue 5).

During the plenary, several Member States addressed SDG implementation and policy coherence. The Netherlands stressed interlinkages among the SDGs and synergies with other international frameworks. Hungary also underscored the SDGs’ interconnectivity. Kenya highlighted its creation of a state department for fisheries and blue economy. Madagascar announced its intention to create a cross-sectoral, multi-stakeholder committee on the SDGs. Montenegro, Peru and Poland called for appointing a Secretary-General’s special representative for the ocean to promote SDG 14 implementation.

Partnership Dialogue 4 addressed the role of MPAs in sustainable fisheries and criteria for other area-based conservation measures. Participants raised challenges related to IUU fishing, with Tuvalu and Vanuatu calling for more effective documentation and traceability. Thailand recommended enhanced collaboration between coastal, flag and third states and regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) in controlling vessels. Indonesia called on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to acknowledge that IUU fishing is a transnational crime. Participants further highlighted cooperation and partnerships to build sustainable fisheries, including sustainable seafood movements in the US and EU markets that are driving sustainable fisheries and aquaculture worldwide. The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) presented its Fisheries Language for Universal Exchange (FLUX) project for the standardization of fishing data exchange for improved monitoring and research.

On fisheries subsidies, panelist Karl Brauner, World Trade Organization (WTO), noted emerging consensus among WTO member states on prohibiting subsidies promoting IUU fishing and harming overfished fish stocks, and the direct effect of subsidies on access to fish in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) and their indirect effect on trade. He elaborated that negotiations on agreed language of the prohibition of subsidies focus on identifying such behavior, without converting WTO into a fisheries-management organization.

Panelist Arni Mathiesen, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), supported tackling harmful subsides through the WTO. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) described the elimination of harmful subsidies as central to the multilateral trade agenda, saying fish subsidies contribute to distorting market prices, encourage unfair competition and expand inequality between developed and developing countries. The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation urged banning harmful fisheries and fuel subsidies by 2017 at WTO. Friends of Marine Life proposed a green tax for unsustainable fisheries and a green subsidy for sustainable ones. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) committed to engage 20% of global fish landings in sustainable fisheries certification by 2020, and 33% by 2030, noting the need to eliminate harmful subsidies to reach these targets.

In Partnership Dialogue 5, participants highlighted: the role of small-scale fishing in the economies of SIDS and LDCs and in communities’ livelihoods; prerequisites for improving market access, including in relation to infrastructure development, access to technology and organization through cooperatives; and diversification of local ocean economies beyond fisheries. Papua New Guinea described the role of the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) set by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) to exercise leadership in managing distant-fishing vessels and ensure economic returns. Trinidad and Tobago stressed infrastructure development to improve market access, processing facilities to add value to fisheries products, and assistance for organization of fishers’ cooperatives. India described support to small-scale fishing communities in terms of market access, equipment purchase and creation of cooperatives.

Moderator Dame Meg Taylor, Pacific Island Forum Secretariat (PIFS), said addressing SDG 14 will also advance the SDGs on poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), gender equality (SDG 5), sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12), climate change (SDG 13) and partnerships (SDG 17). Laura Tuck, World Bank, urged enhancing governance, such as co-management with local communities, with strong enforcement of tenure rights, and facilitating access to markets for artisanal fishers through private and public investment. Mitchell Lay, Caribbean Network Fisherfolk Organization, emphasized that small-scale fishers’ organizations are a precondition for meaningful participation in decision making. Rare committed to mobilizing US$100 million over the next ten years to support small-scale fishers. Several countries, including Denmark and Australia, highlighted their capacity-building support to SIDS and LDCs, with others, including FAO, offering technical assistance.

According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), Ocean Conference delegates also discussed the challenge of relating the voluntary commitments to action on the ground. There are 1,001 total commitments registered in the Conference’s Registry of Voluntary Commitments as of 8 June. [ENB Coverage of UN Ocean Conference, 7 June] [ENV Video Summaries from Ocean Conference] [Conference Programme] [Registry of Voluntary Commitments] [UN Meeting Coverage] [UN Feature Story on Trinidad and Tobago Ocean Culture]


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