New Zealand's fight to establish a massive marine reserve in Antarctic waters has been delayed at least another three months after countries failed to agree on the ambitious sanctuary for a second time.
The proposal to create a 2.27 million sq km marine sanctuary in the Ross Sea, which was backed by the United States, failed yesterday after a consensus could not be reached within the 25 members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
A delegation from Russia did not support the proposal at the meeting in Bremerhaven, Germany, questioning whether the commission had the legal power to establish a reserve in the region. Along with Ukraine, Russia expressed concern about the increased restrictions on fishing in the plans.
The special meeting had been called to discuss the marine protected areas after earlier talks in October also failed.
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US Secretary of State John Kerry said he regretted that an agreement could not be reached.
"But we'll soon get another bite at the apple and a formulation for protecting the Ross Sea can and will be found, period," he said. "Yes, the road has been harder than we hoped. But I am pleased that so many countries were willing to work together towards this crucial objective."
The proposal would be debated again in Hobart in October.
Before negotiations began, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials emphasised that the German meeting was the best chance to get the proposal over the line because it had been preceded by eight months of furious lobbying by US and New Zealand diplomats and politicians. But they said gaining consensus often took several attempts.
High-profile lobby group Antarctica Ocean Alliance accused Russia of negotiating in bad faith and stalling progress on marine protection.
"After two years of preparation, including this meeting, which Russia requested to settle the scientific case for the Ross Sea ... proposal, we leave with nothing," said coalition director Steve Campbell.
There were already fishing restrictions in the Ross Sea, including a quota of 3800 tonnes a year, but the New Zealand-US proposal would have moved vessels away from some historical fishing grounds and spawning areas in an attempt to make the fishery more sustainable.