Largest Conservation Gathering Backs Decisive Action
Sharks, Tuna, High Seas Biodiversity, and Boreal Forest motions adopted
In the final days of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea, several important motions were adopted for sharks, tuna, high seas biodiversity, and Canada's boreal forest. At the quadrennial congress, governments and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that are IUCN members adopt motions that help guide the organization's global program and the actions of members. All motions must be by a majority of governments and a majority of NGOs.
Pew Environment Group staff were among the more than 7,000 people from more than 170 countries that attended the congress, debating and voting on solutions to some of the world's most pressing environmental topics. The Pew team worked to ensure that a number the largest marine and terrestrial conservation challenges were adequately addressed and that these issues were on the IUCN's program and mandate for the next four years.
“We are very pleased that the IUCN membership has adopted several strong measures, particularly on ocean conservation and fisheries. This sends a strong signal that the status quo on overfishing and lack of sufficient management must end, and IUCN must help lead the way,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group. “We look forward to working with governments and IUCN staff to see these motions implemented.”
Calls for Stronger Shark Protections, Applauding New Shark Sanctuaries
Three motions were adopted on sharks. They included language urging countries to prohibit retention and trade of Endangered and Critically Endangered sharks, put in place precautionary management measures for sharks, and support of inclusion of shark species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendices, including in particular hammerhead sharks. The motions also commend efforts taken by several regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) to prohibit retention of certain vulnerable species and action by countries to establish shark sanctuaries through the banning commercial shark fishing in their waters.
"We are very pleased to see the IUCN Congress adopt motions urging governments to take strong, meaningful action for shark conservation,” said Lieberman. “The overfishing of sharks and resulting depletion of shark populations and species around the world risks the health of entire ocean ecosystems.”
The motions acknowledged two growing international concerns: Many shark species are threatened and continue to decline because of unregulated fishing, and the loss of sharks can cause dramatic shifts in the marine environment, including a cascade of indirect effects resulting from changes in the abundance of other organisms.
IUCN Makes Unprecedented Calls for Precautionary Tuna Management
Threats to several tuna populations were high on the agenda at the IUCN Congress. For the first time, IUCN members passed a resolution calling on tuna RFMOs to establish harvest control rules, including target and limit reference points for managed tuna stocks, as well as for governments to take steps to improve the traceability of tuna catch. The recent IUCN Red List assessment of tuna and billfish found that two tuna species were listed as Critically Endangered and Endangered (Southern Bluefin as Critically Endangered; Atlantic Bluefin as Endangered); and a third species was listed as Vulnerable (Bigeye). In addition, scientists in the Pacific recently indicated that the Pacific skipjack fishery is approaching the limits of sustainability and that controls should be put in place. With no effective catch limits for any of these tuna species except southern Bluefin, this motion is critical for prompting tuna RFMOs to take necessary action.
In addition, the motion noted that without proper precautionary management, research indicates that the deployment and unmanaged proliferation of drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs)—used mainly to fish for skipjack—could alter the overall function of the ocean ecosystem and change the behavior of marine species. The motion therefore also urged action by governments and RFMOs to better manage these devices, including requiring FAD management plans.
With specific reference to Atlantic Bluefin tuna, the congress passed a motion calling for greater action to ensure compliance with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) conservation measures, including withdrawing fishing rights from countries whose vessels violate management measures. Because illegal fishing remains a contentious issue in this fishery, continued action to improve vessel monitoring system (VMS) and compliance is necessary.
Hope for the High Seas
IUCN members agreed on the need to negotiate a new international instrument, an implementing agreement under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea for the conservation and sustainable management of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Specifically, IUCN members called on States and IUCN Members to address ocean governance gaps through the negotiation of a new agreement that would provide the necessary legal framework to establish marine protected areas, including no-take reserves, on the high seas—which cover about half of our planet.
This resolution came after governments agreed in June 2012 at the U.N. Rio+20 meeting to defer a decision for 2½ years on how to conserve and protect marine life in the high seas. This motion shows that members of the world's largest conservation organization see the negotiation of a new implementing agreement as an important step for protecting high seas biodiversity.
A resolution, “Acknowledging Quebec's Advancement of Conservation of the Boreal Region,” was adopted by more than 95 percent of IUCN's civil society membership and all of its government membership. It praises a policy that calls for the protection of half of northern Quebec—almost 232,000 square miles (nearly 600,000 square kilometers) in the boreal forest region, an area about the size of France—from all industrial activity and calls for development in the other half to be “socially responsible, sustainable and environmentally sound.” Known as the Declaration of the Partners, a part of Quebec's Plan Nord, the policy was signed by representatives of the provincial government, industry, conservation organizations, aboriginal communities, and local municipalities. It commits that the policy will abide by agreements with First Nations and the Inuit living in the territory and their ancestral rights and maintain nation-to-nation discussions between the provincial government and the aboriginal nations.