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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Moving from Words to Actions

Conference on the Governance of High Seas and the UN Fish Agreement
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada on May 1, 2005

Mr Chairman,

Distinguished Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here for the first time in my capacity as European Commissioner in charge of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs. I would like to congratulate Canada for taking this welcome initiative and holding this conference in St. John’s. The European Union and Canada have off course a long tradition of working together and of co-operation particularly in fisheries.

I believe it is important, first of all, to recall the importance of the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, whose development and adoption truly marked a turning point in the history of international law. This Agreement has imposed, for the first time a detailed, rigorous discipline on Parties, and this is probably one of the reasons why its path to global acceptance still lies ahead of us.

However I believe it is increasingly apparent to all countries, as it is to our citizens, that the state of the oceans is quite fragile. That human activities have an increasingly negative impact on the marine environment. That marine biodiversity is essential for the future well-being of our communities. And that the oceans’ resources are not infinite.

For these reasons and many others, we must commit to do more. We must continue perfecting a shared framework that will allow us to work together efficiently and to take decisive action in pursuit of the sustainable development goals identified by the Johannesburg World Summit.

During the past decade, the international community has co-operated intensely at an international and regional level to create a substantive body of legal and political texts that reflect the will of nations to ensure that the oceans’ resources are accessible to all peoples, and that these resources are preserved for the benefit of future generations.

It is important to remember that the international community has a long history of co-operation with regard to high seas fisheries and that this history is also a very important part of our heritage. We now have a well structured body of international laws and instruments, and a significant number of organisations that channel their energies to ensure sustainable fisheries. It is on this that we must continue to build.

Of course, there are significant challenges, and constraints, that make the conservation and management of marine living resources a daunting task. The last report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation clearly states that the potential of capture fisheries has been reached and that rigorous management plans are indispensable to ensure sustainability of stocks. At the same time, food security, the legitimate expectations of developing States and similar factors put traditional high seas fishing nations in a position whereby they must accept new constraints and responsibilities when defining their fisheries policies.

Public sensitivity to the need to better protect and preserve the environment, in particular fragile marine ecosystems, also constantly places fisheries issues under a spotlight and subjects its regulators to considerable pressure.

I am certain that during this Conference a number of possible actions will be discussed to address the delicate balance that we need to strike in order to truly achieve sustainability in this sector. I very much look forward to our discussions in this regard.

Allow me to say that from the point of view of the European Union, whose fleets are present in all the world’s oceans, we are ready and willing to take decisive action to ensure effective governance of high seas fisheries. Let me also say, however, that as managers of considerable fish resources in the Union’s waters, we assume fully the responsibilities that fall upon Coastal States with respect to conservation and sustainability.

It is also important that, while discussing the high seas, we do not forget that a very big part of the world’s fishing is conducted within the 200-mile zones, and that the future of all straddling and highly migratory stocks is essentially dependent on the efficient management of these zones.

I fully agree with the need to co-operate and support developing countries in the fight against illegal fisheries and in achieving the objective of sustainability. The new Fisheries Partnership Agreements that the Union ins undertaking with a number of developing countries aim at achieving exactly that.

I am certain that during this Conference a number of possible actions will be discussed to address the delicate balance that we need to strike in order to truly achieve sustainability. I very much look forward to our discussions in this regard.

Thank you.

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