STATEMENT DELIVERED BY COMMISSIONER EMMA BONINO ON BEHALF OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY
AT THE FIFTH SESSION OF THE CONFERENCE ON STRADDLING AND HIGHLY FISH STOCKS
NEW YORK, 27 March 1995
I wish to restate the European Community's firm commitment to an approach which really ensures sound and effective conservation of the fish stocks concerned and their responsible and sustainable utilization whilst being fully consistent with the relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
I should stress that the European Community not only has an important fishing fleet operating in high seas areas but that it has a very substantial coastal area too. Consequently it has every interest to uphold the equilibrium between rights and obligations established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and in its particular situatio, to see strict and compatible conservation measures being adopted and applied both in waters under national jurisdiction and in high seas areas.
I can ensure you, Mr. Chairman, that pursuant to the Treaty establishing the European Community, environmental protection is required as a component of the Community's other policies. Consequently, the Community is in a good position to give real meaning to the commitments undertaken in 1992 at he United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and enshrined in the programme areas of Agenda 21.
The causes for the present alarming state of fishery resources are well known.
Apart from the practice of reflagging which is really confined to fishing in high seas areas, all the other problems are being faced both in waters under national jurisdiction and on the high seas.
As this Conference addresses fish stocks the exploitation of which involves more than one State, it offers a unique opportunity to remedy those problems. To this end, it will be essential that this Conference accepts its only relevant starting point to be sound and effective conservation of the fish stocks concerned. From this we draw three main conclusions:
the priority of scientific aspects in the building up of conservation measures will have to be acknowledged. In this context, the principle of biological unity of the stocks concerned is decisive. The coastal State in whose waters the larger part of these stocks occurs has every interest to know what is happening outside its zone with regard to those stocks. Similarly, States fishing the portion of these stocks which occurs in high seas areas can only take appropriate conservation measures if they have sufficient knowledge of what is happening inside the coastal States' zone.
effective conservation can only be achieved by ensuring compatibility between measures taken on the high seas and in the economic zones. In this context, the principle of biological unity requires that these measures which are taken separately under different legal regimes, do not undermine each other.
as we are dealing with fish stocks which involve the rights of more than one State, sound and effective conservation can only be obtained through effective cooperation betwenn all States concerned. By definition, cooperation implies interaction of all participants on an equal footing. It implies the requirement to have due regard to the rights and obligations of others. It must rest on transparent and objective procedures and criteria. There is non alternative to that.
It would be impossible to attain sound and effective conservation of the fish stocks concerned if the Conference were to deal with conservation requirements only in respect of a part of the fish stocks concerned, i.e. that in international waters. International cooperation in the above mentioned sense and shared responsabilities, are therefore indispensable to achieve the intended leve of conservation. Unilateral action would prove entirely inadequate.
With regard to international cooperation, please allow me, Mr. Chairman, to make a reference to a recent example which may also have significance in the framework of this Conference. Since the early nineties, the European Community initiated a consultative process with all the coastal States of the mediterranean basin on the conservation and management of the fisheries resources of that particular region. That process led to a diplomatic conference which was organised by the European Commission an held in Crete during 12 to 14 December 1994.
The Conference adopted a solemn declaration to set up a system of conservation and management, harmonised at Mediterranean level, with the purpose of ensuring effective protection for the fishery resources of the Mediterranean as a whole.
It is obvious that in order to be effective, conservation measures need to be complemented by a strict regime of control and surveillance of fishing activities. Here again, the European Community has made considerable efforts in the past and it iswilling to contemplate the strictest possible measures. In this context, the issue of fishing activities under the flag of States that do not discharge their obligation to take conservation measures and/or to cooperate to this effect has to be given priority treatment. This problem is indeed linked to the need to find appropriate means to encorage those States to cooperate effectively.
A regime of sound and effective conservation needs as a necessary component appropriate mechanisms of dispute settlement. In our opinion, disputes should be settled through procedures provided for by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and consequently, the setting up of new procedures should be avoided to the extent possible.
The question of what form to give the results of this Conference held a prominent place during deliberations at earlier sessions. There is a clear momentum towards a binding international strument. On this question, the European Community has stated that it is flexible. Yet, it continues to believe that a binding instrument alone would remain a dead letter if it did not contain sufficient substance which takes full account of all interests involved. Agreement should be sought first on substance; the question of form will then solve itself.
Since the last session of this important Conference, two main events have occured which are particularly worth mentioning.
On November 16, 1994, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) finally entered into force. This Convention represents a sound achievement in global consensus building. By consolidating the innovative concept of exclusive economic zones, it has provided guidelines for the determination of the limits of national jurisdiction. It has, thereby, settled a potential for conflict due to coastal State claims to extend jurisdiction to the high seas. Moreover, it has laid the foundations for the peaceful use of the seas and the sustainable exploitation of their resources and, to this end, has provided legal security.
When the General Assembly drew up the mandate for this Conference, it had every reason to specify that the proceedings and the results of this Conference would have to be fully consistent with the provisions of the UNCLOS and that forthcoming discussion should focus only on measures for implementing the Convention.
The second event which has occurred very recently, gives rise to profound concern. It is the passage from verbal claims to acts of force in the north Atlantic using fisheries conservation to widen the powers of a coastal state in waters not expressly placed by the UNCLOS under national jurisdiction. In this respect, you, Mr. Chairman, uttered prophetic words of warning when you said, at an earlier stage of this Conference, that if States began to reassert unilateral jurisdiction on the high seas, they would seriously undermine the Law of the Sea with allthe attendant uncertainty.
I cannot but agree with this assessment. In fact, unilateral actions of the kind you referred to go far beyond the issue of fisheries. Any upset of the equilibrium established by the UNCLOS is bound to have adverse repercussions on other issues governed by this same convention.
In these circumstances, one has to underline the importance of trying to agree here on a legally binding instrument which should contain a clause on compulsory dispute settlement. At he same time we are facing a situation where one of our main partners, both in our relations in general and in this Conference feels free not to abide any more by the rules of the Law of the Sea as soon as he considers that the international law in force is not securing his own interests.
Throughout the last weeks, and just now, we have heard statements which accuse the fleets of distant water fishing States and in particular those of the European Union, of plundering the Ocean and of beinf at the center of all the conservation problems we encounter globally.
In this context, I also feel obliged to react to some of the remarks which have just been made by one of our partners:
-It is most unfortunate that this partner has withdrawn from the arbitration procedures of the International Court of Justice, as this dispute could more easily be settled if they had not.
-Concerning the fishing vessel, Estai, which has been referred to, our inspectors have submitted a report indicating that the cargo was of 170 tons of which 150 were of halibut. The composition of the catch and the measurement of the nets (130 mm) indicated that they were in conformity with the rules of NAFO and that there was no irregular use of the fishing equipment. There were no clandestine hiding places or double hull in the Estai. The inspectors confirmed the existence of two log books, one which had been completed and another which had just been opened to provide a continuous record of the fishing operations carried out.
-The captain of the Estai reported that the ship had been inspected serveral times in December and more recently on the 17 of January by the Canadian authorities. These inspections had shown no irregularities. However the report of the most recent inspection was not handed over to the NAFO by the Canadian authorities in accordance with NAFO procedures. The net that was sunk was only inspected by the Canadian authorities and the information they repoted, could not be verified.
There is also an essential truth which derives from biological reality, namely that by far the larger part of stocks, and also of straddling stocks, live within the exclusive economic zones and that the main fishing effort is being exerted inside thosezones. It cannot be denied therefore that coastal States are much to blame for the problems of the stocks concerned.
It is true that those fishing on the high seas also have to assume their responsabilities and we are prepared to do so. But we cannot be the scapegoat for the management faults committed by others. This state of affairs is best illustrated by the situation which recently obtained prime media coverage.
Let me however explain the situation we are facing in the northwest Atlantic. To begin with, we have a general agreement on the need to limit catches of a given fish stock and on the need to limit catches of a given fish stock and on the need for a corresponding total allowable catch (TAC).
The only remaining disagreement concerns the sharing out of that TAC among the fleets operating in the region. In this respect, I agree that the criteria of allocation may be the subject matter of discussion. It is however inconceivable to pretend that where the coastal State catches the main portion of a stock, this is to be viewed as a responsible and ecological fishing activity, whereas if others claim to have the right to fish a part of that stock in high seas areas, they plunder the seas.
Allegations of that kind are pure propaganda. I think we must be honest and not conceal claims of pure economic interest behind a veil of ecological and humanitarian appearance.
Once the necessary conservation rules have been agreed upon, you have two possibilities to accomodate economic interest at international level. In the first instance, you negotiate (either in a bilateral or in a multilateral framework) with a view to arriving at equitable solutions, whilst taking into account the interests of the different parties.
If such negotiations fail to yield satisfactory results, I think that in today's world, any responsible party would be bound to accept international arbitration. In this context, I cannot but regret that some chose to withdraw from international arbitration in the field of fisheries whilst knowing perfectly well that, in accordance with procedures under international law, the lawlessness of their measures would have been established.
I am convinced that the only means to secure a peaceful solution to problems based on contrasting interests at the international level, is to submit them to dispute settlement as provided for by the UNCLOS and I call upon all to stay within the framework of the rule of the law instead of seeking to obtain, by means of force, unilateral advantages which are inconsistent with the law.
I want to underline the danger of the action that was taken last night by Canadian vessels in which certain fishing nets were cut. This type of action creates great risks for the vessel which can capsize, and an even greater risk for the personnel on board the ship. We must, at all costs, seek to avoid such actions in the future and resolve our difficulties through normal dispute settlement means.
Mr. Chairman,In view of the urgent need for a strong, effective and workable conservation regime, the European Community attaches the highest importance to the ongoing Conference, the work of which should be brought to a successfull conclusion this year.
The European Community is prepared to continue negotiations in an open spirit on the basis of the revised negotiating text which you, Mr. Chairman, prepard at the conclsusion of the last session of this Conference. This is an excellent text for the pursuit of our work in the coming weeks.
We look forward to intensifying close cooperation with you and all participants to secure, under your able chairmanship, a favorable and balanced outcome of the Conference.