The General Assembly is the universal forum for discussing current issues regarding ocean affairs and the Law of the Sea. This is underlined by the breadth of the issues presently being dealt with within the broader framework of the General Assembly:
-We are preparing for next year’s conference for the evaluation of the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement;
-we are getting ready for the discussions in the working group that early next year will discuss broad issues related to biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction;
-we are about to launch the preparatory stage of a global marine assessment of the state of the marine environment, which was initiated during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002,
-we are preparing for next year’s review of States’ action against destructive fishing practices as called for in last year’s General Assembly resolution on fisheries;
-during this year’s informal consultative process we discussed marine debris and the role of fisheries in food security; and
-during next year’s informal consultative process we will discuss the ecosystem based approach to fisheries management.
It is essential that all important discussions on the broader developments of the law of the sea are taking place within this representative forum, and we believe the United Nations will continue to have an important role to play. In this regard, I would like to commend the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS) on the excellent job it is doing to provide the General Assembly with necessary input on the topics under discussion. This year, as always, the Secretary General's reports on Law of the Sea and related issues are of the highest quality, and these reports are invaluable tools when evaluating the dynamic developments in ocean affairs. The Secretary General must make sure that DOALOS is the resources the Division needs to carry on its important function.
I will focus on three main topics in my statement today: evaluation of the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, sustainable management of living marine resources and protection of the marine environment, and maritime security.
The 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement is an essential contribution to the Law of the Sea as regards the management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. For example, it sets out the precautionary principle and establishes the institutional framework for cooperation on the sustainable management of the fish stocks concerned. Essential in this regard is the Agreement’s reliance on Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and Arrangements (RFMO/As) as the vehicle for achieving sustainable management.
Only four years after its' coming into force, we will evaluate the Agreement during a one-week review conference in May next year. The Agreement must be regarded as an infant in the context of international law, and we must keep this in mind when we review it. So far the Agreement cannot have had very deep or far-reaching implications, so there will be obvious limits as to how far-reaching the conclusions of the conference can be. For instance, it is not desirable to discuss amendments to the Agreement.
So far only 56 States have become party to the Agreement. This means that several important fishing nations are still outside this cooperation. At this stage the rather low number of parties is the Agreement's main weakness. The conference will provide us with an opportunity to take a closer look at what is keeping States from joining and what measures we can take collectively to get more States on board. The conference should take advantage of this opportunity and develop a systematic approach for encouraging more States to join. Let me also take this opportunity to encourage all States that are not party to the Agreement, to join as soon as possible.
An important task for the conference will be to evaluate the implementation of the provisions of the Agreement in the national legislation of the parties and in the mandates of the RFMO/As of which they are members. We will have to take a systematic look at this formal implementation in order to decide whether measures to improve implementation are needed, and information on these aspects will hopefully be made available to the conference. Such an evaluation should be part of a broader examination of what we can do to make RFMO/As even more efficient tools for the management of the resources in question. A heavy responsibility rests with the RFMO/As and their parties as regards a broad range of challenges related to ecosystem based resource management and conservation of biodiversity. States must make sure that their RFMO/As have the mandates they need to make all necessary management and conservation decisions.
At the conference we must also consider what we can do to expand the network of RFMO/As, for example by establishing new such bodies for areas that are not currently covered by any organisation or arrangement.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea recognises the responsibility of coastal states for sustainable management of living resources in their maritime zones. Through the Agreement, states are obliged to cooperate in the management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. In discharging these responsibilities, the coastal states and the RFMO/As are afforded a wide range of discretion in choosing the most appropriate management measures. However responsible and precautionary the coastal states and the RFMO/As might be in their management, the full purpose is not served as long as we are struggling with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing).
IUU fishing is the single most serious threat to the world's marine resources today. Curbing such fishing is therefore among the most important measures we can take to protect the marine resources. And the responsibility for doing so unquestionably rests with each and every state involved with fishing or fish trading one way or another. Obviously, a huge responsibility here rests with the flag state. Unfortunately, some states allow vessels to fly their flag without ensuring that their fishing practises are legal and sound. A substantial strengthening of targeted port state control measures is also crucial in order to effectively combat IUU fishing.
Recently there has been a strong focus on the high seas in the international debate on sustainable management of marine resources and the protection of marine ecosystems. There are substantial challenges related to the biodiversity in areas outside national jurisdiction. However, the high seas focus must not mislead us to think that the greatest challenges related to resource management and conservation are to be found on the high seas. The main problems are still to be found within national zones. This means that our main focus should be on strengthening national and regional environmental and resource management. The greatest challenge is to encourage the political will necessary to get States to deal effectively with their domestic problems. We must not allow the focus on the high seas to blur the picture and serve as an excuse for States not to shoulder their responsibilities as regards their national zones and vessels flying their flag.
Even though the main problems related to the marine environment and resources are within national zones, there are also obvious and huge challenges on the high seas. In this regard we have discussed the legal basis for taking measures in these areas, and some claim that the problem is that no State or organisation has the jurisdiction to deal effectively with the problems. This has led to calls for the negotiation of new legal instruments, and some call for the formation of some kind of body with the authority to i.a. establish marine protected areas. I would like to make a few points in this regard:
-Firstly, States have jurisdiction to regulate activities by their subordinates on the high seas. Any activity that takes place on the high seas is carried out by nationals of one or more States. Thus, the States concerned can have direct influence on any negative activity on the high seas. This boils down to a question of political will. Flag State responsibilities towards fishing and commercial vessels are essential in this regard.
-Secondly, there are several organisations that already have regulatory competence on the high seas. RFMO/As and the IMO are examples of entities that can make decisions of a binding nature regarding activities on the high seas within their respective mandates. The International Seabed Authority can and shall regulate mining activities in the Area in such a way that any negative effects on the marine environment are minimised or avoided.
-Thirdly, our focus should be on identifying practical measures to deal with specific problems. The challenge is to utilise existing instruments and mechanisms to the fullest extent within their current mandates in order to manage and conserve marine biodiversity in these areas. So far we have not identified areas where there are specific problems where the States responsible for the action in question have had to conclude that international law prevented them from taking action. Nor have we been made aware of any specific problem that is totally outside the reach of any State or existing instrument.
-Fourthly, the limits on measures that may be implemented within existing instruments and mechanisms are determined by the political will of States. Negotiating new instruments would be time-consuming and difficult, and it would take valuable resources and focus away from the implementation of specific measures that will have practical results in the short term. Rather that focusing on developing new instruments, States should cooperate more closely on utilising existing possibilities. We have several instruments that could make an impact, but we lack effective implementation. It is difficult to see why it should be easier to implement and utilise a new instrument than the ones we already have. A new instrument will be subject to the same limitations as the existing ones.
One example of a very practical approach to protection of marine biodiversity is the measures adopted by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) to protect vulnerable bottom habitats within the Commission’s area of competence. When it became clear that the use of certain fishing practices, such as bottom trawling, were destroying bottom habitats, such as cold water coral reefs, in vulnerable areas, the Commission decided, in 2004, to establish five marine protected areas where such practices are prohibited. Once a problem is specified and the cause is identified, I think it will be possible in most if not all instances to identify practical measures that can be implemented quickly within existing structures. I encourage States and relevant organisations to identify and implement such measures.
The Secretary General’s latest report on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (A/60/63) refers to a large number of actual and attempted acts of piracy and armed robbery. It is reported that the level of violence has escalated and that the areas most affected are in the Far East. This threat to seafarers and the shipping industry is of great concern to my government. We would, however, commend those Asian governments that have taken an active interest in developing cooperation to curb this problem, and we stand ready to cooperate further in an attempt to make shipping more secure. The IMO, too, deserves praise for its efforts, and we encourage the organisation to continue its engagement in this field.
An important step to prevent and suppress terrorism and proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) at sea was taken in London last October, when the IMO Diplomatic Conference adopted a protocol to amend the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA). These amendments provide for the criminalisation of additional international terrorist and non-proliferation offences and a boarding regime for interdiction on the high seas. This is a major contribution to the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 1368 (2001), 1373 (2001) and 1540 (2004) against terrorism and proliferation. I would like to commend the IMO on a job well done, and I encourage all parties to sign and ratify the protocol as soon as possible.