UN criticised for failing to halt looting of world fish stocks: Pressure groups say three weeks of talks in New York are one more example of nations doing too little too late to safeguard natural resources

THREE weeks of hard talking in New York have brought nations a little closer to agreement on how they might start to save the world's deep- sea fish stocks from collapse and avert fish wars.

But the main outcome of the UN talks was agreement to hold more talks. Frustrated environmental groups said it was one more example of nations doing too little too late. The global marine catch has soared almost five-fold in post-war years but peaked at 86 million tons in 1989 and fell in the following two years. Preliminary indications are that in 1992 the catch rose a little but had not returned to the 1989 peak.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says most of the well- known marine fish stocks are being exploited at or far beyond limits of sustainability. Much of this increase has come from the development of deep-sea fleets working grounds thousands of miles from their home ports in Japan, Korea, the United States, Russia, Spain, Portugal and several other countries. One stock after another has collapsed from over-fishing and each time the fleets move on, sometimes having to settle for a smaller, less valuable alternative.

The global industry, with more than 1 million medium to large boats, has become unprofitable: the FAO said it had costs of dollars 124bn ( pounds 82bn) and revenues of only dollars 70bn in 1990. Much of the shortfall was being covered by state subsidies.

The New York conference, which ended yesterday, focused on the problem of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks - those species crossing the dotted lines on maps which delineate the 200-mile exclusive fishing zones which coastal nations have awarded themselves. It is now universally accepted that countries can claim and police these limits even though the convention which enshrines them, the UN Law of the Sea, has not yet come into force. But unfortunately fish don't recognise them.

And beyond the limits these fish are preyed on by the distant-water fleets. This has produced international tension, although outright hostilities so far have been confined to clashes on the high seas between fishing boats of different nationalities and the occasional gunboat.

There has been bad feeling for years between Canada and the EC nations, especially Spain and Portugal, over fishing off Newfoundland. The Canadians blame the EC fleet, fishing just outside the 200-mile zone, for the collapse in cod stocks.

Chile says it is considering a unilateral extension of its zone beyond 200 miles to protect its fisheries; Iceland has also talked about it. The New York conference aimed to promote co-operation between nations so that they need not resort to such drastic measures.

The answer is seen to be regional fishing organisations in which nations exploiting each particluar fishing ground meet regularly. They would agree on an allocation of catches between themselves which sustained stocks at an optimum level, taking scientific advice and agreeing to abide by it.

Such groupings already exist: the North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation is meant to control fishing off the Grand Banks outside Canada's 200- mile zone. But as far as Canada is concerned it has dismally failed to protect stocks from over-exploitation.

One issue still to be resolved is whether such organisations should be based on loose, non-legally binding guidelines or a legal convention. Nations which feel victimised, like Canada, want the latter, while the deep- sea fishing fleet countries want something as loose as possible.

They are deeply unhappy about the promotion of such regional organisations because they fear they will exclude new members. The nature of deep-sea fishing in post-war years has been to over-exploit one area and then move on. Regional organisations could make that more difficult.

The conference also touched on the issue of fleets operating under flags of convenience. Spanish and Portugese boats have been buying the flags of Belize, Honduras, Panama and sundry other countries to flout international fisheries agreements. Here hopes of law and order on the high seas rest on a proposed convention which would force the flag-of-convenience states to make their fishing fleets abide by fisheries rules. But that would only happen if those states chose to ratify the convention.

There will be further talks in March and August next year and, it is hoped, resolutions at the UN General Assembly later on. But the only real answer is for nations to reduce their deep-sea fleets. Professor John Beddington, of the Renewable Resources Assessment Group at Imperial College, London, said: 'Worldwide over-exploitation of major fish stocks is likely to continue until nations cut the over-capacity.'

(Graphic omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas