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Sen. Stevens Testifies On The UN Convention On The Law of The Sea


October 15, 2003
Wednesday - 12:05 am

Senator Ted Stevens testified Tuesday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Stevens spoke in support of the Convention, provided that certain concerns are adequately addressed. The concerns outlined by Stevens are: that potential surpluses of U.S. fish stocks must not lead to arguments by foreign nations to gain access to these marine resources; deep seabed claims by Russia on the Arctic Shelf; and, that provisions of the Convention be specific to avoid future misinterpretation.

The Law of the Sea Convention now includes the 200-mile exclusive economic zones for coastal States, restrictions on destructive fishing on the high seas, including a moratorium on high seas drift nets, and ensures that high seas fishing for "straddling fish stocks" (such as pollock in the Donut Hole) and for highly migratory species (tunas, swordfish) will not undermine efforts taken by coastal States to conserve and manage those stocks in their exclusive economic zones.

Following is Senator Stevens' statement from Tuesday's hearing:

I am proud Congress and the President approved Alaskan suggestions now part of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which include:

Many of the provisions in the Convention are consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act on living resource management, conservation and exploitation. Before passage of this Act fisheries around the world, including those off the coast of Alaska, were being overfished, primarily by distant foreign fleets.

In 1987, the Driftnet Impact Monitoring, Assessment, and Control Act - directed the Secretary of State to negotiate observer and enforcement agreements with nations whose vessels used large scale driftnets on the high seas. It also began the process that eventually led to the U.S. recommendation that the U.N. adopt our suggestion for a global moratorium on large-scale driftnet fishing on the high seas.

The "Convention on Conservation and Management of Pollock Resources in the Central Bering Sea" otherwise know as the "Donut Hole," and the "1995 U.N. Fish Stocks Agreement" attempted to better define the obligations and redress for countries where highly migratory species and straddling fish stocks originate.

The Donut Hole agreement was the model for the global treaty that became the 1995 U.N. Fish Stocks Agreement. I carried the commitment to ratify this agreement to the United Nations General Assembly, and the U.S. did the right thing by ratifying it in August of 1996. I believe the "Donut Hole" and U.N. Fish Stocks Agreements cleared up many concerns that had been voiced about the efficacy of enforcing living marine resource laws internationally under the Convention. The agreements have proven to be critical first steps toward cooperative international management of transboundary stocks.

I recommend the ratification of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and related agreements provided the following concerns are adequately addressed.

The quotas for all groundfish combined in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands are capped at a maximum of 2 million metric tons annually, which include pollock, pacific cod, yellowfin sole, turbot, arrowtooth flounder, rock sole, Alaska plaice, sablefish, pacific ocean perch, northern rockfish, rougheye, atka mackerel, and squid. This cap is enforced regardless of the maximum recommended acceptable biological catch levels. This is one of the longest standing conservation measures in the North Pacific.

The pollock biomass is currently near all-time high levels, with a 2002 overfishing level of 3.54 million metric tons. As you know, Article 62 of the Convention is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act for authorizing the allocation of any surplus to foreign States and provides terms and conditions for any foreign fishing in the U.S. exclusive economic zone.

Apparently, recent changes or proposals to the Law of the Sea have not changed this.

We must be vigilant, if we ratify this Convention, to assure that strong conservation measures to protect species in U.S. waters do not lead to claims by foreign fleets to gain access to our living marine resources.

It is my understanding that the U.S. successfully negotiated favorable terms on the deep seabed mining Agreement, which should guarantee the U.S. a seat on the decision-making body of the International Seabed Authority and eliminates mandatory transfer of technology provisions. Further it scales back the administrative structure for the mining regime.

The Arctic continental shelf extends beyond the U.S. 200-mile exclusive economic zone and is of great interest to Alaska, two-thirds of the continental shelf off the U.S. is off Alaska. Article 76 of the Convention allows member States to lay claim to all bottom resources on their continental shelves beyond 200-miles. It is my understanding that Russia has recently proposed claims to large areas of the Arctic shelf to the International Seabed Authority. Aggressive claims such as these raise a question of whether the U.S. would be better situated if it became a party to the Convention and had a seat on the Authority that oversees these claims. In addition, if we ratify the convention, pursuant to Article 76 the U.S. could lay claim to an area of about 62,000 square kilometers north and east of the Bering Strait. I recommend that this committee closely review the Agreement on deep seabed mining.

I strongly recommend that this committee work closely with the Commerce Committee on the various issues I have raised today, as they are very much within that committee's jurisdiction.

Proponents of ratifying the Law of the Sea argue that active U.S. participation in the Convention and Agreements will guarantee the protections and restrictions are applied in a fair and commensurate manner. I urge caution: the Law of the Sea Convention and other related agreements must not be open ended; provisions must be specific and precise to prevent future misinterpretation. If those determinations are not clear, later interpretations will seriously erode U.S. policy.

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy is expected to release its report on Ocean Policy next month. Their report, I'm told, will include a recommendation for the U.S. to become a party to the Convention. The Senate should consider seriously their recommendation. The Law of the Sea Convention has benefitted from the laws that originated in the U.S. This Convention now embodies the 200-mile exclusive economic zone, provisions to prevent destructive fishing practices, and conservation and management of shared living resources. But Congress needs assurance that the Law of the Sea will not undermine future conservation and management initiatives or security measures.

In this and future centuries, demands on the world's oceans will only increase. And, if properly managed oceans will become an even more important and bountiful source of food as well as a place of commerce, communication and resource development. The Law of the Sea can provide us with the comprehensive legal framework we need to maximize our use of the oceans' resources, while ensuring their healthiness and productivity for generations to come.


Source of News Release:

Office of Senator Ted Stevens
Web Site


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