Meeting of the United Nations Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group
to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of
marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction
Mr. Tomas H. Heidar
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
New York, 13 February 2006
We are pleased to take part in this meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group established by the General Assembly to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. We welcome the informal character of this meeting and see, in particular, the value of providing the General Assembly with an overview of activities of different international organizations and bodies in this field, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and of examining the scientific, technical, legal and other aspects of these issues.
We wish to thank the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea for its balanced and comprehensive report on the issues to be dealt with at this meeting. The report will facilitate our task greatly and is a good example of the high standard of assistance provided by the Division.
As pointed out in the report, while the oceans cover two thirds of the planet, it is estimated that the vast majority – around 90 per cent – are still unexplored. Clearly, further scientific research is required in order to understand better the complexities of marine biodiversity, including in areas beyond national jurisdiction. In particular, seamounts, hydrothermal vents, cold water corals and other sensitive underwater features, that can sustain a high degree of biological diversity and endemism, should be explored.
In the view of Iceland, the promotion of scientific research is the single most important action to be taken in order to promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Enhanced scientific research requires the development of new and more targeted technologies, including sampling techniques. Cooperation among States, international organizations, research institutions, private companies and other relevant parties should be encouraged, as well as information sharing and capacity-building. For example, greater involvement of scientists from developing countries in scientific research programmes and activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction should be promoted.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides the legal framework for all activities in the oceans, including the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. A number of specialized agreements supplement the Convention by providing measures for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity. In our view, the implementation of the Convention and relevant agreements will promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. We are not convinced of the need for a new global agreement to deal with this issue.
We emphasize that the conservation and management of living marine resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction should remain at the regional level, in accordance with the Law of the Sea Convention, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and other relevant instruments.
The impacts of fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems, including in areas beyond national jurisdiction, have been the subject of thorough discussion and examination in the General Assembly in recent years. Its fisheries resolution 59/25 recognizes that it is for States and regional fisheries management organizations, as appropriate, to regulate fisheries and their impact on vulnerable marine ecosystems, and to take decisions on any interim or long-term management measures. In case of regional fisheries management organizations without such competence, their members are called upon to expand their competence, where appropriate, and in case of high seas areas not covered by such organizations, relevant States are called upon to establish them, where necessary and appropriate. This national and regional approach was reaffirmed by the General Assembly in its fisheries resolution 60/31 last fall.
Iceland, as many other coastal States, has been applying area restrictions and closures as one of its fisheries management tools for many years. Icelandic authorities continue to work on protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems within its national jurisdiction. Last year, for example, we closed five areas, that cover a total of 80 square kilometres, to fishing with gear that adversely affects the seabed, for the purpose of protecting vulnerable cold water corals. We work on the basis of scientific information and address the issue of protection on a case-by-case basis. This approach ensures that we give proper protection to the areas that need to be protected while not disrupting responsible fishing practices in other areas.
The protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems is sometimes presented as an issue where the fisheries sector and environmental protection clash. However, the approach followed in Iceland makes such a clash unnecessary. Rather than to impose blanket closures of vast marine areas, we work with the fisheries sector to determine what areas should be protected. In fact, consultations with the fisheries sector resulted in an increase in the size of the areas that were closed last year compared to the original proposals from our scientists.
Regional fisheries management organizations are addressing the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Some of these organizations, such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, NEAFC, are in the process of review and modernization, incorporating the ecosystem approach to fisheries management in order to facilitate this important task.
In 2004, NEAFC established an interim measure for the protection of vulnerable deep-water habitats in the high seas of the North East Atlantic. An interim prohibition of fishing with gear, which adversely affects the seabed on a number of seamounts and in a section of the Reykjanes Ridge, was agreed for a three-year period. During this interim period, NEAFC will assess its work on this issue, seek further scientific advice and assess possible enforcement issues that may arise, with the aim of having appropriate conservation and management measures in place by 2008. NEAFC has shown its commitment to take the necessary action to protect vulnerable habitats on case-by-case and scientific bases, and is now in the process of developing internal procedures for targeted management measures.
We look forward to the review by the General Assembly next fall of progress on actions taken by States and regional fisheries management organizations to regulate fisheries and their impact on vulnerable marine ecosystems, and regard that process as the appropriate mechanism for further discussion of that issue.
Different views have been expressed on whether, according to the Law of the Sea Convention, marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction fall under the regime for the high seas or under the regime for the international seabed area. In the view of Iceland, these resources are subject to the high seas regime described in the Convention. They are not covered by Part XI of the Convention, except as part of the marine environment that must be protected in connection with activities in the international seabed area.
We remain to be convinced of the need for a new legal regime for marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction. It is important to stimulate scientific research and bioprospecting on the basis of codes of conduct or other cooperative mechanisms, in order to promote the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
We look forward to a constructive and fruitful discussion in the coming days.