Summit agrees deal to restore fisheries

Posted: 29 August 2002

A plan calling for the restoration of the world's heavily depleted fish stocks by 2015 has been agreed by 189 nations at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

United Nations studies have shown that three-quarters of the world's fisheries are presently fished to their sustainable levels or beyond.

A breakthrough, the agreement on the target marks a major commitment that requires countries to marshal resources and political will to ensure the responsible management of fisheries.

"This agreement provides us with the crucial underpinning for government action," according to Johannesburg Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai. "Overfishing cannot continue. The depletion of fisheries poses a major threat to the food supply of millions of people. This agreement recognises that we need coordinated action between governments on an urgent basis to manage the oceans responsibly, to meet the needs of people now and in the future."

Desai added that it was absolutely necessary that government commitments to implement sustainable fishing be complemented through partnerships by and between governments, fishermen, communities , and industry. "We have no choice but to work together on this," he said.

Expressing doubt on the outcome of the agreement, Dawn Martin, chief operating officer of the new international oceans organization, Oceana, said, "This important and ground-breaking Plan carries no weight unless countries adopt the document and pass their own laws to implement these strategies. Moreover, national laws cannot protect the global oceans commons unless strong international treaties are enforced over the High Seas."

Delegates agreed on a section of the Plan that urges countries to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international agreements that promote maritime safety and protect the environment from marine pollution and environmental damage by ships. Currently, only 130 countries have ratified the law.

Agreement was also reached on a section that asks regional fisheries management organisations to consider the needs of developing countries when allocating fish quotas. Developing countries have maintained that existing fisheries regimes do not reflect their interests.

The exact location and size of the protected marine areas envisaged in the rescue package have not yet been released.

The United States had originally resisted the deal, but gave way when the words "where possible" were added to the 2015 deadline.