Northern Hemisphere fishing nations have obstructed an effort to regulate deep sea fishing and bottom trawling over a vast area of the South Pacific. The European Union, Russia, and South Korea sank a bottom trawling protection plan at a meeting to establish the South Pacific regional fisheries management organization in Hobart last week.
The talks in Hobart were a continuation of negotiations that began in Wellington in February. They aim to develop a regional fisheries agreement to manage non-highly migratory fish stocks on the high seas from the Indian Ocean to South America and from the Antarctic to an as yet undecided northern boundary. The talks aimed also to set up interim measures to manage the effects of bottom trawling in these areas. But the EU, Russia and South Korea repeatedly blocked proposals supported by Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Pacific Island States and the United States which were intended to protect deep sea life from bottom trawling.
The Chilean government said that it is limiting its own national fishing effort out of concern for the sustainability of deep ocean mackerel stocks, which are of great economic significance to the coastal communities of Latin America. But a group led by the European Community wanted the freedom to rapidly expand its catch levels of mackerel.
The Hobart meeting comes two weeks after a declaration issued by the Pacific Islands Forum nations called on members of the Pacific Islands Forum to advocate for an interim prohibition on bottom trawling until international conservation measures are in place. "It is clear that some governments seem bent on delaying any decision to cap levels of fishing so that they have the opportunity to rapidly expand their fishery exploitation, to the point that by the time we get any precautionary management measures in place, commercial fish stocks will have collapsed," said Alistair Graham from WWF International.
"We are concerned to see these historical patterns of fisheries management failure being played out yet again in the South Pacific," Graham said.
WWF-Australia spokesperson Lorraine Hitch said, "Eight months ago at the first session in Wellington, these same governments agreed to adopt voluntary interim arrangements for the South Pacific Ocean at this meeting. Yet now it seems that even exercising restraint in their fishing activities as an interim step is unacceptable to governments such as the European Community despite their obligations under international law."