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High seas need international police force, says former UK foreign secretary

Environmental Activism

Students form a giant fish on a beach in Dakar to draw attention to the problems of fisheries in Senegal. Bringing order to the high seas is critical to managing existing fish stocks and safeguarding the world’s food supply, Miliband said. Photograph: Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images


Powered by article titled “High seas need international police force, says former UK foreign secretary” was written by Suzanne Goldenberg in Half Moon Bay, California, for on Tuesday 25th February 2014 14.20 UTC

The former UK foreign secretary and president of the New York-based International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, is urging the creation of a seagoing police force to bring order to the “wild west” free-for-all on the high seas that is damaging the health of the world’s oceans.

Miliband and the former Costa Rican president, José María Figueres, who together serve as co-chairs of the Global Oceans Commission, will formally unveil their ideas for ocean reform in a report next June.

But the two leaders have begun to sound out international reaction to a set of proposals for protecting oceans, from a crackdown on illegal fishing to a clean-up of the vast churn of plastic particles in the Pacific and expanding marine protection zones.

The two men previewed their ideas at a high-level gathering in California on Tuesday organised by the Economist and National Geographic.

Bringing order to the high seas is critical to managing existing fish stocks and safeguarding the world’s food supply, Miliband said.

“The high seas are seriously undergoverned,” Miliband, said in an interview. “There are parts of the high seas that are certainly anarchic. There are parts of the high seas that look too much like the wild west.”

The commission is understood to be in discussions with Interpol about the deployment of an international ocean-police force.

Miliband said his vision of an ocean protection force would lean heavily on the deployment of new surveillance technologies to identify and track fishing vessels operating on the high seas, as well as their catch.

“If you are to have an enforcement regime, it needs to be policed,” Miliband said. But he cautioned: “It is not about having people in boats necessarily.”

Illegal fishing on the high seas is stripping oceans of fish stocks, and threatening a major food source for 1 billion people, mostly in the developing world.

Two-thirds of the fish taken on the high seas are from stocks that are already dangerous depleted – far more so than in those parts of the ocean that lie within 200 miles of the shore and are under direct national control.

Estimates of the unreported and illegal catch on the high seas range between $10bn-$24bn a year, overwhelming government efforts to track or apprehend the illegal fishing boats.

The illegal fishing makes it impossible for countries to manage sustainable fisheries and hurts responsible fishing crews.

Miliband said the commission was talking to the International Maritime Organisation about adopting new regulations to require all fishing vessels to be fitted with transponders.

The tracking devices would enable police forces to identify and track all vessels operating on the high seas, including those that venture illegally into marine protected zones or areas of depleted fish stocks.

“We are talking about relatively small number of vessels doing a large amount of damage. In a situation where those vessels are not marked you are obviously inviting trouble,” Miliband said. “Every fishing vessel should be identified.”

He said the enforcement effort, to be effective, must also extend to ports where fishing vessels land their catches.

“The ultimate thing is that you track the individual fish from where it is caught to where it sold … The middle men, the retailers who buy from fishermen and sell to supermarkets are obviously key to this,” Miliband said.

The coming years are expected to see growing competition for ocean resources – from offshore oil to seabed mining and prospecting for the global pharmaceutical industry.

The laws governing the high seas – which make up 45% of the Earth’s surface – have not kept pace with those economic developments, or with the new reality of climate change.


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