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1. Precautionary Approach and Burden of Proof

5. Within the framework outlined in Article 15 of the UNCED Rio Declaration, the precautionary approach to fisheries recognises that changes in fisheries systems are only slowly reversible, difficult to control, not well understood, and subject to changing environment and human values.

6. The precautionary approach involves the application of prudent foresight. Taking account of the uncertainties in fisheries systems and the need to take action with incomplete knowledge, it requires, inter alia:

a. consideration of the needs of future generations and avoidance of changes that are not potentially reversible;

b. prior identification of undesirable outcomes and of measures that will avoid them or correct them promptly;

c. that any necessary corrective measures are initiated without delay, and that they should achieve their purpose promptly, on a timescale not exceeding two or three decades;

d. that where the likely impact of resource use is uncertain, priority should be given to conserving the productive capacity of the resource;

e. that harvesting and processing capacity should be commensurate with estimated sustainable levels of resource, and that increases in capacity should be further contained when resource productivity is highly uncertain;

f. all fishing activities must have prior management authorization and be subject to periodic review;

g. an established legal and institutional framework for fishery management, within which management plans that implement the above points are instituted for each fishery, and

h. appropriate placement of the burden of proof by adhering to the requirements above.

7. Key concepts in past discussions of the precautionary approach have been the burden of proof and the standard of proof (i.e., the responsibility for providing the relevant evidence and the criteria to be used to judge that evidence). Often, the precautionary approach has been taken as requiring that human actions are assumed to be harmful unless proven otherwise (reversal of the burden of proof). In regard to these concepts, it is recognised that:
a. all fishing activities have environmental impacts, and it is not appropriate to assume that these are negligible until proved otherwise;

b. although the precautionary approach to fisheries may require cessation of fishing activities that have potentially serious adverse impacts, it does not imply that no fishing can take place until all potential impacts have been assessed and found to be negligible;

c. the precautionary approach to fisheries requires that all fishing activities be subject to prior review and authorization; that a management plan be in place that clearly specifies management objectives and how impacts of fishing are to be assessed, monitored and addressed; and that specified interim management measures should apply to all fishing activities until such time as a management plan is in place, and

d. the standard of proof to be used in decisions regarding authorization of fishing activities should be commensurate with the potential risk to the resource, while also taking into account the expected benefits of the activities.

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