Fishing nations led by Iceland and Russia have blocked UN negotiators from imposing a full-fledged ban against destructive bottom trawling on the high seas.
After weeks of talks in New York, a UN committee that oversees high seas fisheries failed to gain unanimous support this week for ending unregulated bottom trawling.
Fishing boats that drag giant nets along the sea floor can be as destructive as they are effective, wiping out creatures and habitats while scooping up everything in their path, according to a National Academy of Sciences report in 2002.
Iceland and Russia, along with China and South Korea, resisted a proposed ban that had the backing of US President George W. Bush and US allies such as Britain, Norway, Australia and New Zealand.
"There were several countries that really didn't want any controls at all," US Assistant Secretary of State Claudia McMurray said in an interview on Friday. "Unfortunately, the resolution comes up short. We're very disappointed that this is the result we ended up with."
Any one country can hold up the committee's closed-door negotiations. Because of the impasse, the proposed ban probably will not be considered at a plenary meeting of the 192-nation UN assembly next month in New York.
A draft resolution privately adopted by the committee recommends that nations either ensure boats are not causing harm or "cease to authorize fishing vessels flying their flag to conduct bottom fisheries" on the high seas.
The draft resolution also asks fishery management organizations to help reduce damage from bottom trawling. Such organizations exist in the North Atlantic, the Southeast Atlantic, the Southern Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The remaining 75 percent of the high seas has no regulations for bottom trawling.
More than 60 conservation groups that campaigned for more than two years for a ban on unregulated high seas bottom trawling are discouraged, but not giving up.
Joshua Reichert, director of the private Pew Charitable Trusts' environment division, which coordinated the groups' campaign, called the rejection of the ban "a stunning example of dysfunctional decision-making and the unwillingness of the world's nations to stand up and just say `no' to activity that is destroying the global marine environment."