Opening address to Deep Sea 2003 Conference
Hon Damien O'Connor
Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to New Zealand and to the Deep Sea 2003 Conference.
I extend a special welcome to Dr Changchri He, FAO Regional Director for Asia, and the Right Honourable Simon Upton, Chair of the OECD Round Table on Sustainability. I trust that your time at the conference will be interesting, challenging and productive. I hope that you will also take some time to enjoy what this country - and particularly the Central Otago region - has to offer.
With the world premiere of the film The Return of the King occurring today in Wellington, it is perhaps also appropriate to welcome you to Middle Earth. Many of the scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed in this region.
The Minister of Fisheries, Hon Pete Hodgson, has been closely involved with recent Government efforts to promote New Zealand's screen industry and our news media has dubbed him the Minister for The Lord of the Rings. He is on Lord of the Rings duty in Wellington today and has asked me to present this opening address on his behalf. However, Pete will be participating in the final two days of your conference and I know he is looking forward to interacting with you on the conference themes.
This conference comes at an important time for the management of deep sea fisheries. Over the last few decades, there has been considerable progress in the management of fisheries - both within areas of national jurisdiction and in high seas areas.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has been in operation for over three decades, the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing has been adopted, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement has come into effect, and an increasing number of regional fisheries agreements are either in place or under development.
There have also been a number of agreements reached in the wider environmental field, some of which set targets for protection and sustainable management of marine fisheries.
But for all this progress, many of the world's fisheries are in poor shape and the prognosis is not good - especially for fisheries in high seas areas and particularly deep sea fisheries. We need to do much more if we want to enjoy the benefits these fisheries can provide and hand them on to our children in reasonable shape.
This conference is a forum for expert and technical consultation, for specialists to discuss freely the problems of managing deep sea fisheries and the options for addressing them. I encourage you to put aside national perspectives and work to develop solutions that are relevant and workable across a broad range of fisheries.
There will be no negotiated conference communiqué. Instead, a report summarising the conference sessions and discussions will be prepared by the organising committee and presented to the FAO Committee on Fisheries. The results of the conference will also contribute to the first review of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, expected to begin in 2005, and will undoubtedly be used by national and regional fisheries management organisations.
New Zealand's Minister of Fisheries, like many others, must frequently make decisions on issues related to deep sea fisheries and therefore has a very real interest in the results of this conference and how they will be put into effect. On his behalf I would like to set out some specific challenges for conference participants. Most of the challenges are directed to a particular fisheries discipline, but are relevant, to some extent, to all disciplines and interests represented here.
The first challenge is to all conference participants. Management of deep sea fisheries is so complex that only the commitment and cooperation of experts in a range of disciplines will make successful management possible. If ever there was an issue where a genuine multi-stakeholder approach is required, this is it.
Each of you represents a discipline that has a major contribution to make in managing deep sea fisheries. But without contributions from the other disciplines, your efforts will be in vain. So I encourage you to acknowledge the importance of other disciplines, listen to each other, and work together to identify issues and solutions.
I want to offer two challenges to scientists: to develop more effective ways of providing the information necessary for managing deep sea fisheries, and to maintain your independence.
Deep sea fisheries present us with major scientific challenges. We have limited information; obtaining information is often expensive; species may be long-lived; and environmental effects of fishing may take a long time to reverse.
In response to these challenges, I encourage you to consider how new technologies can be harnessed to provide the information we need at reasonable cost. How can you cooperate with the industry to obtain information from fishing operations in a cost-effective manner? What new models can you develop that function effectively with limited information? How can you cooperate with scientists from other countries to obtain necessary information?
A scientist's greatest tool is objectivity, the expression of findings or opinions according to some scientific methodology. That's how science presents itself as independent and disinterested. But that independence can be easily lost if scientists then become involved in advocacy. Every scientist has a right to lobby. But they should do so with a professional detachment, because that's how they will make their most powerful contribution.
I want to challenge fisheries managers to do more to develop effective governance arrangements for deep sea fisheries - especially those in high seas areas.
We need governance arrangements that will ensure deep sea fish stocks are harvested in a sustainable manner, that will protect the marine environment, and that will allow us to maximise the value we obtain from these fisheries. This is a significant challenge within each country's fisheries jurisdiction. It is a daunting challenge for deep sea fisheries in high seas areas.
In recent years, New Zealand has shared in some of the successes of cooperative management of deep sea fisheries in high seas areas. We have experienced some of the frustrations too.
We have worked with other countries to improve management of deep sea fisheries in the Pacific, Antarctic and Southwest Indian Oceans. But our efforts have been hampered by the lack of the sort of detailed international legal framework that exists for highly migratory and straddling fish stocks.
For some deep sea fisheries there are no regional management agreements in place, nor any prospect of reaching an agreement. Even for fisheries where there is an agreement in place, companies from signatory countries can avoid their obligations by re-flagging in countries that are not signatories.
IUU fishing also undermines the effectiveness of management under these agreements. These and other shortcomings in the governance of high seas fisheries remain a major challenge to achieving effective and sustainable management of deep sea fisheries.
I have two challenges now for environmental NGOs: to maintain your credibility by using accurate information, and to give credit where it's due.
Environmental NGOs play important roles in the management of deep sea fisheries. In particular, they give a voice to many members of our society who want the marine environment protected from adverse effects of fishing - and they often do so on meagre resources.
However when NGOs present incomplete or incorrect information, they can end up working against themselves. An example is the consumer choice cards used to help consumers avoid products from unsustainable fisheries. Classifying all products from a particular species as "bad" or "unsustainable" simply isn't good enough. It is misleading. It might highlight the poor management in some fisheries for that species. But it does little to reward or encourage those fishers operating in sustainable fisheries for that same species elsewhere.
I also want to challenge NGOs about your mode of operation. Environmental NGOs can work against industries and governments to raise awareness of issues and they can work with industries and governments to develop solutions. Both are important and I think both should be deployed, depending on the issue.
Unfortunately, some NGOs over-use the first, oppositional mode of operation. The result is that they seen less as fair critics of a decision than as reliable pessimists. The response from other stakeholders is often antagonistic. Far better, surely, to deploy the twin tools of credit where it is due and criticism where it is deserved.
My main challenge to industry is to accept the obligations that go with the right to harvest fish - especially the environmental obligations.
Increasingly, the public is demanding higher standards of environmental performance. The New Zealand Government - among others - believes that protecting the health of the natural environment is a very important part of sustainable development. In the same way that you have to live with increasing product quality standards you should expect higher environmental performance standards.
In part, these higher standards are a result of our rapidly increasing knowledge in this area. Until recently, the deep sea environment and the environmental effects of deep sea fishing have been largely invisible. New technologies now provide a window on this environment.
An example is provided by the recent New Zealand and Australia research expedition in the Tasman Sea. This two-week expedition resulted in the identification of at least 100 unrecognised fish species and 1,300 invertebrate species. If this number of new species can be found in a two-week expedition, one can only guess how many species - potentially vulnerable to the effects of fishing - remain to be identified.
It is pleasing to see industry involvement in a number of initiatives designed to improve environmental performance. I want to highlight two.
The Hoki Fishery Management Company has worked hard to meet the requirements of the fishery's Marine Stewardship Council certification - after what was, in my view, a hesitant start. This shows the positive marketing results that can be achieved by managing fisheries sustainably. I understand that a number of other deep sea fisheries are working towards MSC certification. I wish them well and I gently remind them that in this area, short cuts can end up taking longer.
Then there is seabird bycatch, in this the seabird capital of the world. Through Southern Seabird Solutions, industry, environmental NGOs, and government are working cooperatively to develop an innovative programme promoting fishing practices both in New Zealand and overseas that will drive that bycatch down.
Leading by example and highlighting good practices is a positive way to encourage change. The New Zealand Government is prepared to implement a comprehensive regulatory approach to seabird protection if the cooperative approach fails. In my view it won't fail.
I am sure there are similar initiatives in the countries represented at this conference and it is important to highlight examples of best practice. But my impression is that a lot more needs to be done to manage the environmental effects of deep sea fishing.
So my challenge to industry is to work with governments and stakeholders to find optimal ways of achieving necessary environmental standards. I urge you not to re-flag your vessels to avoid your environmental obligations.
I also urge you to recognise the important roles that environmental NGOs play in managing deep sea fisheries. Develop constructive relationships with those environmental NGOs that are willing to work with you. Involve them in your planning, listen to their concerns. There will be difficulties and you won't always agree. But you will gain a better understanding of their concerns, the public's concerns and the steps you can take to address them.
My final challenges are for decision-makers, myself included. There are a number of areas of fisheries management in which we are not doing a good job. I want to highlight three.
First, we don't do a good job of involving stakeholders in the decision-making process. Intuitively, decision-makers don't want to involve stakeholders because it involves power-sharing - something that does not come easily. But effective involvement of all those with a genuine interest in a decision will lead to better decisions - and, importantly, better implementation.
Second, we should do more to consider the wider effects of our decisions. For example, it is easy to reduce fishing effort in fisheries under our jurisdiction by transferring it somewhere else. When that "somewhere else" is a country or high seas area where overfishing is already a problem, or where environmental standards are lax, we have not solved the problem - we have merely displaced it. We should try to avoid exporting our problems.
The most important challenge for fisheries decision-makers - and my last for today - is to make decisions rather than postpone them. It is too easy to defer decisions when we want more information. But for many areas of fisheries management there will always be less information than we want. We should remember that, in many situations, waiting may ultimately make it impossible to make a good decision. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
This conference is ideally placed to help develop innovative solutions to the difficulties we face in managing deep sea fisheries. The challenges are clear. The time to address them is right. Together, you have the knowledge and expertise needed to make progress. I wish you well in your endeavours.