EU engages in negotiations to prevent unregulated fisheries in the Arctic high seas

The European Union participated in the first round of international negotiations on measures to prevent unregulated fisheries in the Arctic high seas took place between 19 and 21 April in Washington DC.
Commissioner Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: “This is an important process and I’m happy it started on a good note, with all the parties agreeing on the need for precautionary measures. It will fill an important gap in the ocean governance system.”
At present no commercial fisheries take place in the Arctic high seas, but with the Arctic region warming at almost twice the global average rate and the sea ice cover shrinking, changes in fish stocks’ size and distribution may occur both in the exclusive economic zones of Arctic coastal states and in the high seas area of the Central Arctic Ocean. These areas could become attractive to commercial fisheries in the near future.
Faced with this possibility and aware that most of the Arctic high seas are not covered by international conservation or management regimes, the international community met in Washington from 19 to 21 April to start negotiating an agreement that would prevent the opening up of unregulated fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean.
Delegations from Canada, the People’s Republic of China, the Kingdom of Denmark (in respect of the Faroes and Greenland), the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States were present.
The second round of negotiations is to take place from 6 to 8 July 2016 in Iqaluit, Province of Nunavut, Canada.
This week’s meeting followed up on a first exploratory meeting held in Washington DC in December 2015.
The sound stewardship of the high seas areas of the Central Arctic Ocean has a prominent place in the EU’s Arctic policy, which advocates a responsible approach towards the Arctic marine resources while respecting the rights of the native communities.
Since 2009 the EU has strongly maintained that there should be no commercial fishing on the Arctic high seas before a science-based, precautionary management framework is in place. Commissioner Vella and HRVP Mogherini are set to present a new Integrated Policy for the Arctic on 27 April.
DG Mare Newspage

EU welcomes progress on new instrument to conserve marine biodiversity

The international community has taken a first step in developing a legally-binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Following two weeks of intensive negotiations, the first session of a United Nations preparatory committee tasked with elaborating this new instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has drawn to a successful close. Participants included representatives from most countries and regions, including the EU, as well as intergovernmental organisations, the business sector and civil society.
For the first time delegations discussed specific issues, including for example marine genetic resources, area-based management tools like marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.
Commissioner Karmenu Vella, responsible for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, remarked:
“The European Union has long championed the need for a new UNCLOS implementing agreement for biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction and was consequently a key player at this meeting. This agreement will represent a major step forward in enhancing international ocean governance, a key priority of my political mandate. It will implement and strengthen UNCLOS and overcome the current fragmentation of the legal order of the oceans. It should also contribute to a more sustainable use of our ocean resources, in line with the UN’s recently adopted 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. I congratulate all participants on this constructive first meeting and encourage them to continue down the path of compromise and cooperation in order to achieve a universal agreement that will deliver healthy and productive oceans for current and future generations. The European Commission will continue to support this process, which we hope will lead to a formal intergovernmental treaty conference in 2018.”
The committee will meet again for a two-week session in August, with two further sessions planned for 2017.
DG Mare News webpage

The long and winding road continues: Towards a new agreement on high seas governance

logoiddriIDDRI’s latest publication, The long and winding road continues: Towards a new agreement on high seas governance, available here:  
The first session of the Preparatory Committee charged with developing elements of an instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) will commence on March 28 at UN headquarters.bThis publication is a detailed guide to the upcoming negotiations, useful for both newcomers and experienced participants. It provides some background on the law of the sea and current governance arrangements for ABNJ before discussing: gaps in the current framework; the history of the international discussions; State positions to date; and some challenges that may arise during negotiations. 

A much shorter Issue Brief of 4 pages is also available:

Commission publishes summary report on ocean governance consultation

Source: DG MARE

What can the EU do to promote the sustainable use of seas and oceans and preserve internationally shared marine resources? How can it help secure the conditions of sustainable blue growth? European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella today announced the results of a European Commission consultation on international ocean governance which took place from June to October 2015, alongside a ‘listening tour’ with stops in Portugal, Ireland, Malta, the United States, Norway, Chile, Spain and France, among others. Coastal & Marine (EUCC) contributed to this consultation.

The public consultation aimed at assessing the current ocean governance framework and the EU’s role in achieving better ocean governance worldwide. The Commission received over 150 replies from a variety of groups, the largest being public authorities (26%), citizens (19%), NGOs and businesses (each 17%).

For the vast majority of respondents, the current framework is not effective enough: we need better implementation of rules and better coordination between existing bodies, we need to fill existing legal gaps on exploitation and we need to improve ocean knowledge. Regional Seas Conventions and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations are invaluable, but could be strengthened. Existing agreements like the FAO Port State Measures Agreement need to be ratified for them to take full effect.

Respondents confirmed that the EU has an important role to play on the international scene to tackle these challenges, particularly by exerting its economic and political weight. The EU is already spearheading the global fight against illegal fishing, pushing for a new international legal agreement under the UN to preserve marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and promoting research cooperation through an Atlantic Ocean research alliance with the US and Canada (the ‘Galway declaration’).

The European Commission is grateful to all those who have taken the online survey on ocean governance and plans to follow it up with a political initiative on ocean governance in the coming months.


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The Eye on Earth Summit (October 6 to 8, Abu Dhabi), The Oceans & Blue Carbon Special Initiative , and Data Innovation Challenges

By Magdalena A K Muir, Climate Editor

Following the 2011 inaugural Summit, the Eye on Earth 2015  promotes dialogue and drives international action that revolutionises the way collect, access, share and use data and information for real-world change. The 2015 summit will seek to foster a culture of collaboration through a network committed to achieving scalable impact for a sustainable future. Based on their focus on the Oceans and Blue Carbon initiative, the 2015 Summit is very relevant for coastal and marine areas.

The Oceans & Blue Carbon Initiative

  • Uses innovative technologies and Citizen Science techniques to develop dynamic habitat mapping and validation and upload tools to deliver timely, fit-for purpose, reliable and interoperable spatial datasets for mangroves, saltmarshes and sea grasses;
  • Develops internationally approved methodologies and data standards to meet the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) requirements for transparent, complete, consistent, comparable and accurate data;
  • Builds user communities, networks and local capacities to maximise the uptake of methodologies, data interoperability, and implementation and interpretation of carbon and ecosystem service assessments for management planning and knowledge sharing;
  • Integrates work across on-going and future activities in Blue Carbon on a global scale.
  • Increases usage of ecosystem based approached in coastal management and conservation, which maximise climate change mitigation and adaptation potential;
  • Reduces uncertainties and risk in trade-offs between development and conservation, particularly with respect to vulnerable populations; and
  • Develops greater local capacity to use market-based mechanisms as a source of sustainable financing for coastal management and conservation.

Stakeholders of the Oceans & Blue Carbon initiative include: Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), Global Environment Fund (GEF), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UNEP Global Resource Information Database (GRID) – Arendal, World Bank, Blue Ventures, Ecological Society of America (ESA), United States Geological Survey (USGS), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), Forest Trends, Open Oceans Global (OOG) and Conservation International.

Data Innovation Challenges

The organizers of the Eye on Earth Summit have  three data innovation challenges for which the finalists will have the opportunity to present their ideas at the Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The three competitions launched are the Data Innovation Showcase, Data Visualization Challenge and Blogging Competition, all of which support the Summit in its focus on using data to secure future for coasts, oceans and the planet..

Under the Innovation Showcase, citizen scientists are invited to create projects that use open data to: better manage food distribution and consumption, and reduce waste; support the health of forest ecosystems; and benefit urban biodiversity. According to the competition organizers, possible project ideas range from crowdsourcing data for tree inventories to creating a platform for getting excess food to people in need. Three finalists will be selected from this competition to present their work at the Summit, where a winner will be chosen.

Artists, designers and others interested in the creative display of data are invited to take part in the Visualization Challenge, which requires entrants to build visual interpretations of the social and economic impacts of poor air quality, oceanic warming and natural disasters. Participants can use images, animations, infographics, three-dimensional (3-D) models, computer simulations, interactive maps and diagrams, and other types of visualizations. One finalist will be selected to attend the Summit.

The Blogging Competition calls on writers and bloggers to submit a piece under the theme ‘A Better World through Knowledge and Information.’ The submissions are requested to be aimed at catalyzing the ‘data revolution’ by addressing how to improve data availability for a more sustainable future and healthier planet. The winner will report live from the Summit as the ‘Official Eye on Earth Summit 2015 Blogger.’ The selected finalists will have their airfare and lodging covered so they may participate in the Summit, which will take place on 6-8 October 2015, in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Further information:

Eye On Earth

Renegade Fishing Trawler Considered the World’s Worst Poacher Stalked for 10,000 Miles by Sea Shepherd Ships

The Thunder, shadowed by the Bob Barker and the Sam Simon in the Sea Shepherd, in February 2015.

As the Thunder, a trawler considered the world’s most notorious fish poacher, began sliding under the sea a couple of hundred miles south of Nigeria, three men scrambled aboard to gather evidence of its crimes. In bumpy footage from their helmet cameras, they can be seen grabbing everything they can over the next 37 minutes — the captain’s logbooks, a laptop computer, charts and a slippery 200-pound fish. The video shows the fishing hold about a quarter full with catch and the Thunder’s engine room almost submerged in murky water. “There is no way to stop it sinking,” the men radioed back to the Bob Barker, which was waiting nearby. Soon after they climbed off, the Thunder vanished below.

It was an unexpected end to an extraordinary chase. For 110 days and more than 10,000 nautical miles across two seas and three oceans, the Bob Barker and a companion ship, both operated by the environmental organization Sea Shepherd, had trailed the trawler, with the three captains close enough to watch one another’s cigarette breaks and on-deck workout routines. In an epic game of cat-and-mouse, the ships maneuvered through an obstacle course of giant ice floes, endured a cyclone-like storm, faced clashes between opposing crews and nearly collided in what became the longest pursuit of an illegal fishing vessel in history.

The Thunder in the moments before it was swallowed by the ocean. Sea Shepherd crew members found signs that it had been intentionally scuttled.

Route from Left to Right

Further Information: NY Times Story 

Modern Slavery in Thai Fishing Fleets to Feed the World’s Pets

Labor abuse at sea can be so severe that the boys and men who are its victims might as well be captives from a bygone era. In interviews, those who fled recounted horrific violence: the sick cast overboard, the defiant beheaded, the insubordinate sealed for days below deck in a dark, fetid fishing hold. The harsh practices have intensified in recent years, a review of hundreds of accounts from escaped deckhands provided to police, immigration and human rights workers shows. That is because of lax maritime labor laws and an insatiable global demand for seafood even as fishing stocks are depleted. Shipping records, customs data and dozens of interviews with government and maritime officials point to a greater reliance on long-haul fishing, in which vessels stay at sea, sometimes for years, far from the reach of authorities. With rising fuel prices and fewer fish close to shore, fisheries experts predict that more boats will resort to venturing out farther, exacerbating the potential for mistreatment. “Life at sea is cheap,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. “And conditions out there keep getting worse.”

While forced labor exists throughout the world, nowhere is the problem more pronounced than here in the South China Sea, especially in the Thai fishing fleet, which faces an annual shortage of about 50,000 mariners, based on United Nations estimates. The shortfall is primarily filled by using migrants, mostly from Cambodia and Myanmar. Many of them are lured across the border by traffickers only to become so-called sea slaves in floating labor camps. Often they are beaten for the smallest transgressions, like stitching a torn net too slowly or mistakenly placing a mackerel into a bucket for herring, according to a United Nations survey of about 50 Cambodian men and boys sold to Thai fishing boats. Of those interviewed in the 2009 survey, 29 said they had witnessed their captain or other officers kill a worker.

The migrants, who are relatively invisible because most are undocumented, disappear beyond the horizon on “ghost ships” — unregistered vessels that the Thai government does not know exist.They usually do not speak the language of their Thai captains, do not know how to swim, and have never seen the sea before being whisked from shore, according to interviews in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. These interviews, in port or on fishing boats at sea, were conducted with more than three dozen current deckhands or former crew members. Government intervention is rare. While United Nations pacts and various human rights protections prohibit forced labor, the Thai military and law enforcement authorities do little to counter misconduct on the high seas. United Nations officials and rights organizations accuse some of them of taking bribes from traffickers to allow safe passage across the border. Migrants often report being rescued by police officers from one smuggler only to be resold to another.

The United States is the biggest customer of Thai fish, and pet food is among the fastest growing exports from Thailand, more than doubling since 2009 and last year totaling more than $190 million. The average pet cat in the United States eats 30 pounds of fish per year, about double that of a typical American. Though there is growing pressure from Americans and other Western consumers for more accountability in seafood companies’ supply chains to ensure against illegal fishing and contaminated or counterfeit fish, virtually no attention has focused on the labor that supplies the seafood that people eat, much less the fish that is fed to animals.

Traveling the coast of the South China Sea, it can seem that every migrant has his own story of abuse. Skippers never lacked for amphetamines so laborers could work longer, but rarely stocked antibiotics for infected wounds. Former deckhands described “prison islands” — most often uninhabited atolls, of which there are hundreds in the South China Sea. Fishing captains sometimes maroon their captive crews on those islands, sometimes for weeks, while their vessels are taken to port for dry docking and repair. Other islands, inhabited but desolate, are also used to hold crew members. Fishing boat workers on an Indonesian island called Benjina were kept in cages to prevent them from fleeing, The Associated Press reported earlier this year. Inaccessible by boat several months a year because of monsoons, Benjina had an airstrip that was rarely used and no phone or Internet service.

 Thai government officials said they have stepped up the number of investigations and prosecutions and plan to continue doing so. A registration drive is underway to count undocumented workers and provide them with identity cards, added Vijavat Isarabhakdi, Thailand’s ambassador to the United States until this year. The government has also established several centers around the country for trafficking victims.

Critics have faulted Thailand for what they say is a deliberate failure to confront the larger causes of abuse in fishing. Compared to its neighbors, Thailand has less stringent rules on how long boats can remain at sea. Last year, it was the only country to vote against a United Nations treaty on forced labor requiring governments to punish traffickers, before reversing its stance in the face of international pressure. Thai officials also proposed using prison labor on fishing boats as a way to shift away from migrant workers, a plan dropped after an outcry from human rights groups.

Further information:

NYTimes Video : Enslaved.

By Shannon Service, Basil Childers, Greg Kwedar, Ben Laffin and Alexandra Garcia | Jul. 27, 2015| 4:59

In 2011, Asorasak Thamma was kidnapped in Thailand and enslaved on a fishing boat. Interviewed last year, he had not been home since.

A mothership in Songkhla. These large vessels carry barrels of ice and other supplies to fishing boats in international waters.