Conservationists have called on the Federal Government to take immediate action to safeguard marine resources in the southern Pacific Ocean during negotiations for a new management body for the high seas.
More than 25 governments, including Australia, are meeting in Hobart this week to create a regional fisheries management organisation responsible for the southern Pacific Ocean.
The proposed agreement would cover non-tuna marine resources on the high seas from the Antarctic convergence to the Equator in the Pacific Ocean.
But conservation group WWF has raised concerns the governments could be “rushing down the same path” taken by other fisheries organisations that have resulted in “largely unmitigated” impacts on the marine environment.
It has called on Australia to “freeze the footprint” in the South Pacific to safeguard marine resources and allow time for a new breed of international convention to develop.
“What is urgently needed is a new breed of fisheries agreement that learns the lessons from what has worked (in the past) and what has not,” WWF spokeswoman Lorraine Hitch said.
“We have the opportunity to lead a new way of thinking about fisheries conservation and management on the high seas – one that benefits not only the fishing industry in sustainably using the commercial resources but one that isn’t detrimental to the albatross, marine turtles and deepwater corals that form an integral part of the marine environment.”
Ms Hitch said that, with the exception of tuna resources, there were currently no management schemes in place in the South Pacific, despite years of large-scale, unregulated fishing.
“This fishing has not only decimated a number of commercial stocks such as orange roughy and lobster, but has resulted in irreparable damage to sensitive sea-bed areas and impacted species with no commercial value,” she said.
“Developing and implementing a new agreement will take time. Moving quickly to implement strong interim measures is crucial.”
Ms Hitch called on the Federal Government to build on its recent work at the United Nations general assembly where, along with the government of Palau, it sought the prohibition of bottom-trawling on the high seas until strong management arrangements were in place.
“This could form the basis of interim measures for the as yet unregulated southern Pacific Ocean,” she said.