A meeting of the States involved in the negotiation of a new North West Pacific Regional Fisheries Agreement (17 – 18 October in Tokyo) has concluded with a commitment to meet the 31 December 2008 UN General Assembly deadline for protection of deep-sea ecosystems on the high seas. The meeting was the fifth since negotiations began in 2006 and the States participating in the negotiations are Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States. Japanese, Russian and South Korean vessels have engaged in bottom fishing on seamounts along the Emperor Seamount chain in the Northwest Pacific over the past several years.
Adopting a detailed set of Standards and Criteria for impact Assessments and determining Significant Adverse Impacts the States have committed to conducting assessments of bottom fisheries in high seas areas of interest to bottom fishing with a view to identifying Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VME) and adopting measures to either close vulnerable areas or ensure no serious damage to corals and other species vulnerable to damage from bottom fishing. They will also draft an exploratory fisheries protocol and a VME encounter protocol at a follow-up meeting in December.
Although poorly reflected in the report of the meeting, the States also agreed that no high seas bottom fishing should occur in the North East Pacific until interim measures are agreed and in place. They further agreed in principle to extend the scope of their negotiations to draft and Agreement for the whole of the North Pacific Ocean.
The meeting did not find agreement on the subject of 100% observer coverage but ended productively.
Mathew Gianni of the DSCC, who was an observer at the meeting, said “Progress is being made and there is a genuine commitment to avoiding the mistakes and failures of some the other RFMOs involved in implementing the UN resolution. We still need to see strong measures adopted by the end of the year but we’re hopeful given that there appears to be a strong will to implement the UN resolution and deliver real protection on the water.’