Delegates to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement Resumed Review Conference reviewed the recommendations from the last meeting of the Review Conference in 2016. Delegates achieved progress on strengthening the ecosystem approach, addressing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, preserving deepsea ecosystems, and promoting coordination between regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs).

The outcome of the Conference covers four areas of fisheries management:

  • conservation and management of stocks;
  • mechanisms for international cooperation through RFMOs;
  • monitoring, control, and surveillance, and compliance and enforcement; and
  • effective participation of developing states and non-parties.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) reports that feelings about the outcome were mixed. The Resumed Review Conference was expected to “test … key fishing nations and RFMOs on their readiness to adapt fisheries management” to the new developments in ocean governance, the ENB analysis of the meeting notes. These new developments include an agreement under the World Trade Organization (WTO) on harmful fisheries subsidies, a treaty on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), and the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) adopted under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Yet, the ENB summary report of the meeting indicates, many drew attention to “limited or no progress in a number of areas, including lack of reference in the recommendations” to these instruments.

While the ocean “is in peril as marine ecosystems and all living species face increasing challenges related to overfishing, climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and acidification,” “the latest news regarding the sustainability of fish stocks under the mandate of UNFSA is neither comforting nor heartbreaking,” according to ENB. “The overall status of highly migratory fish stocks and straddling fish stocks has not improved since 2016,” it notes. At the same time, success stories from managing specific stocks show that “through carefully planned and scientifically informed management initiatives, improvement is within reach, even for stocks that have been fished at unsustainable levels for many years.” The “new policy seascape” will also require “expanded coordination and cooperation between the various bodies involved in ocean governance” to achieve such improvements.

The UN Fish Stocks Agreement Resumed Review Conference convened at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 22- 26 May 2023. The Conference offers a periodic opportunity to take stock of progress and explore new ways to strengthen fisheries management.