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Benson-Pope Speech To UN Food-Ag Meeting

David Benson-Pope Speech to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture (FAO) Ministerial Meeting, Rome


New Zealand is keenly aware of the threat posed by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

We are an island nation, deep in the Pacific, with a strong and modern seafood industry.

Our Quota Management System has helped us avoid, in our waters, the destruction of fish stocks seen in so many other parts of the world.

But we see very clearly that it is not enough for one nation – any nation – to be concerned solely with keeping its own house in order.

The oceans are a global resource, and IUU fishing harms all of us. It undermines legal fishing operations, compromises the safety of the global fishing fleet, and abuses marine resources.

In the southern ocean we see stocks of Patagonian toothfish seriously threatened by IUU fishing, which destroys huge numbers of seabirds at the same time.

In the Pacific we are beginning to see the development of organised IUU fishing syndicates in addition to individual unlicensed operators. These syndicates seek legitimacy through Pacific Island country market access arrangements, exploiting poor governance and weak systems of monitoring, control and surveillance.

IUU fishing undermines legitimate commercial fishing throughout our region. It will continue as long as unscrupulous operators see a low probability of detection and low penalties. The profitability of pirate fishing can also be assisted, inadvertently, by government subsidies designed to keep input costs low.



To counter the threat posed by IUU fishing, robust monitoring, control, and surveillance by fishing nations is essential. But it is not enough.

We need a range of global, regional, and national measures that raise the cost of engaging in IUU fishing, reduce the revenues from it and increase the risk of exposure.

This can be done.

The estimated IUU catch in Southern Ocean fisheries managed under CCAMLR has dropped substantially in the last two years. While the problem has not gone away completely, a catch documentation scheme and IUU vessel list are proving their worth. A centralised vessel monitoring system has recently joined them.

While effective monitoring, control and surveillance are vital, strong governance is the foundation for success.

As the seafood industry globalises, the scope for IUU fishing expands.

Illegal fishing operations are increasingly exposing the shortcomings of a system of international fisheries governance that is preoccupied with the interests and responsibilities of sovereign states. Those involved in IUU fishing are exploiting the weaknesses in this uneven patchwork to undermine international fisheries management regimes.

The governance gaps in international fisheries must be filled.

We note, for example, the lack of an international legal instrument for conserving and managing discrete high seas stocks. We believe the provisions within the UN Fish Stocks Agreement can be applied to discrete high seas stocks.

New Zealand sees the continued development of regional fisheries management organisations as a way to begin filling some of these gaps.

We are already an active participant in a number of these organisations. We are also prepared to take the initiative in spreading the net of regional cooperation wider.

Recently New Zealand has had preliminary discussions with Australia on the establishment of a new regional fisheries management organisation, for non-tuna species in the South Pacific.

We believe the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, of which New Zealand is a member, is making a valuable contribution to the management of pelagic species. But we are well aware that other important fisheries in the Pacific need similar attention.

In cooperation with Australia, we intend to invite interested parties to a meeting later this year, where a new regional fisheries management organisation dealing with non-tuna species can be discussed further.

New Zealand recognises, however, that as regional fisheries organisations multiply, the need for recognised performance standards grows. We need a consistent gauge of the effectiveness of these organisations, so that they can be held to account. Regional fisheries organisations must also be better coordinated, harmonised where possible, and rationalised where necessary.

New Zealand urges the FAO to take on this role. No other international body is in a better position to do so.

At the international level, we also need a willingness to explore new governance models. There are many possible approaches, including regulatory models, economic instruments, or combinations. New Zealand would like to see a more wide-ranging and active debate on these alternatives.

I have mentioned the success of New Zealand’s Quota Management System in supporting sustainable fishing in our waters. We suggest that creating secure access rights to high seas fisheries would provide the same incentives for sustainable utilisation of fisheries in international waters. No matter what progress we make with international and regional fisheries management regimes, individual states must meet their international obligations. States that have signed up to international agreements must accept that rights to international fisheries are paired with responsibilities.

I am pleased to note that New Zealand is currently undertaking the government processes necessary to enable us to accept the FAO Compliance Agreement. This should be completed by June this year.

New Zealand’s view is that states that have not signed or ratified UNCLOS or UNFSA must be firmly encouraged to do so. And states that flag vessels fishing on the high seas must exercise their responsibilities concerning those vessels.

New Zealand would strongly support the FAO setting guidelines on flag state responsibilities and evaluating performance against them, so that non-performing states can be exposed.

We also see merit in states exercising control of nationals and companies, rather than concentrating on vessels, as a way to combat IUU fishing. New Zealand has implemented statutory controls on the fishing activities of our nationals fishing on foreign flagged vessels, to ensure that they fish only on vessels flagged to responsible fishing nations. We would encourage other countries to consider implementing similar legislation.

I come to this forum from a meeting of the High Seas Task Force on IUU fishing.

New Zealand is committed to action on IUU fishing so we are pleased to be part of a task force identifying specific measures that member states can take, as well as longer-term governance improvements.

We recognise the need for broad international support for the proposals emerging from the Task Force. I know that many of you are aware of the work that has been done, as a result of the Task Force’s efforts to engage with a wide range of nations.

Amongst the practical and innovative proposals emerging I would note in particular the suggested measures to build a more capable network of high seas monitoring and to strengthen high seas governance.

Immediate, concrete gains could be secured by turning the existing monitoring, control and surveillance network into an international unit with dedicated resources, analytical capacity and the ability to provide training and technical support to developing countries.

Improving governance through some of the measures I have mentioned, such as the application of firm standards to regional fisheries management organisations and flag states, would deliver gains for the long term.

It is clear to all of us that a great many fisheries are in peril. We may well be the last generation of decision-makers with an opportunity to prevent their destruction. As individual states, in regional alliances and through collective international action, we must ensure that the world’s fisheries have a future.

I cannot overstate the importance moving from discussion to action on these matters.


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