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General Assembly Fails To Protect Deep Sea Life

United Nations General Assembly Fails To Protect Deep Sea Life

Auckland- 17 November 2004--Deep sea life will not get the protection it needs from the United Nations, despite calls from thousands of scientists, millions of environmentalists and numerous countries attending today’s United Nations General Assembly debate, say New Zealand’s leading environmental and conservation organisations (1).

On the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the world’s governments have missed the opportunity to take one of the most significant steps to protect the rich life of the oceans, by refusing to impose a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.

The resolution, due to be agreed by the General Assembly later today, explicitly acknowledges the threat posed to deep sea ecosystems by bottom trawling - but does not call for collective or decisive action by the international community to prevent further damage.

It only calls on countries either individually or through Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMO’s) to take action and establishes a working group to “study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.” There would be a review in two year’s time.

The DSCC, through its Greenpeace representative, was invited to address the UNGA on the issue – a huge acknowledgement of the work the coalition has done on bottom trawling (2).

The New Zealand Government’s statement to the Assembly today supported a strong call by Samoa (on behalf of the Pacific Island States) for “necessary action” on bottom trawling in the region. Ambassador Don McKay indicated that New Zealand wanted to bring the issue back next year to address progress, emphasising the need to look at areas where action wasn’ t sufficient. He also reiterated New Zealand’s intention to start negotiating with Australia on a RFMO for the Tasman.

“It is heartening to see the New Zealand government noting the urgency of this issue – and moving toward being able to reclaim its mantle as an international leader on oceans management,” said Cindy Baxter, Campaign Manager of Greenpeace.

“However, an RFMO in the Tasman is a clear example of how the UN resolution only singles out specific areas of the high seas for protection, leaving the door open for a weak, piecemeal approach to this global problem.

“This is something they’ve been about for more than 10 years, while the plunder has continued unheeded. RFMO’s only account for some of the high seas, not all.”

Barry Weeber of Forest & Bird said: “Overall, it is clear that the interests of the few bottom trawling nations have won out over science and common sense, We cannot afford to wait for two years to review what we know is a practice which has to be stopped now – before it’s too late for high seas biodiversity.”

Cath Wallace of ECO said: “Two years before a review is far too long for this urgent issue – the Government needs to take its action further. In these next two years we are bound to see a bottom trawling frenzy as the industry has now seen the writing on the wall.”


(1) Greenpeace, ECO and Forest & Bird are part of the New Zealand chapter of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition - an international alliance representing millions of people in countries around the world, which is calling for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.

(2) Karen Sack from Greenpeace addressed the Assembly: “The organisations on whose behalf this statement is being made, believe that there is enough knowledge for states to take immediate action to ensure a vibrant, sustainable and equitable future for all of our oceans. Don’t let short-term needs sacrifice long-term viability,” she said.

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