So What Don't You Understand? The Difficult Language of Agreements

posted in: Fisheries, January 2014 | 0

The negotiations over what the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission calls its Conservation and Management Measure for tropical tuna – including bigeye, yellowfin, skipjack, and albacore – took place over the entire five-day meeting of the commission, and always behind doors closed to most observers.


Several of the observers were allowed inside the negotiations, but they were forbidden from talking about what went on in the discussions until after an agreement had been reached.

The final measure was not approved until the very last hour of the meeting, at which time the lead negotiators brought their draft to the floor. The commission chairman, Charles Karnella, had told the delegations that he did not want to waste meeting time discussing proposals for which there was not already reasonable assurance of passage. That meant, in effect, that the terms of the agreement approved by the commission were worked out entirely behind the scenes.

As a result, the measure has provisions that are difficult to understand – either in themselves, or in terms of the rationale behind them – for anyone not privy to the underlying discussions.

Take, for instance, the language with respect to purse seiners. As with longliners, the purse seine effort limits for 2014 remain unchanged, although the commission did prohibit the entry of new vessels from developed nations to the fishery, while it extended by one month – to four months total – the ban on fishing using fish aggregating devices (FADs).

In 2015 and 2016, nations with purse seine vessels in the region will have to choose either to extend the FAD prohibition to five months, with a limit on such sets based on a percentage of the average annual FAD sets made in 2010 through 2012, or agree to the three-month ban, with FAD sets limited again to a (smaller) fraction of the average annual FAD sets from 2010 through 2012. The exact amount of the percentage varies. With the first option, developed countries and the European Union must reduce the FAD sets to 31.5 percent of the 2010-2012 average, while most small Pacific Island developing states are required to reduce their FAD sets by around 9 percent. For the second option, the reduction for developed states is 27.5 percent, while that for the South Pacific states is around 17 percent.

Confused yet?

There’s this, too. In discussing the provisions for small island developing states (SIDS), the commission agrees to “pay attention to the geographical situation of a small island developing state which is made up of non-contiguous groups of islands having a distinct economic and cultural identity of their own but which are separated by areas of high seas.” The language refers clearly to Kiribati, but the special attention it is to receive is nowhere spelled out.

After the commission adopted the tuna measure, a spokesman for Greenpeace International read a statement endorsed by his group as well as the World Wildlife Fund, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the International Game Fish Association. Against all scientific advice, their statement said, the commission had failed to adopt a meaningful measure to protect fish stocks, thanks to the unbending self-interest of participants in the negotiations. The very process employed in negotiating the agreement was an insult, they added, urging the commission to begin work on a tougher new measure immediately in anticipation of next year’s meeting.

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