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Sharing Our Oceans: International Fishing Treaties

By Joshita Richard

Media from Wix

March 4th, 2023 marked a historic milestone in the global effort to protect the vitality of our oceans. The High Seas Treaty was signed by members of the UN after years of negotiation and planning to ensure that marine life and the biodiversity of the earth’s oceans are preserved for future generations. One of the main goals of the treaty is to finally lay down parameters to protect waters outside of national coastal boundaries (exclusive economic zones), which are areas commonly referred to as the high seas. Since the open ocean is not under the jurisdiction of a single nation, it is often viewed as a common pool resource. This means that the health of our oceans is a shared responsibility requiring global cooperation.

One of the main issues that threatens our oceans today is overfishing. IUU fishing, also known as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,, mainly happens out on the high seas, where ocean resources are abused and overexploited due to the lack of authority in those areas. It is estimated that IUU fishing costs the global economy up to $23 billion annually. To combat unregulated fishing, Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) are established around the world to “promote international cooperation to achieve effective, responsible marine stewardship” according to the NOAA. Under the RFMOs, there are different commissions and organizations unique to each ocean and region, such as the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement, and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, among others. The U.S., along with other active members, abides by the management measures set forth through meetings and scientific research.

Another piece of international legislation that specifically targets IUU fishing is the Port State Measures Act of 2016 (PSMA). It is the first of its kind and sets measures for ports welcoming foreign vessels to detect IUU fishing. The PSMA makes sure that fish caught through unregulated means are not allowed in international markets and alerts members of RFMOs and other organizations of any incidents related to IUU fishing. Seventy-five countries are currently in agreement with the PSMA, requiring better communication, effective information exchange and ultimately improved cooperation in handling fishery management issues.

Vessels that participate in IUU fishing often utilize harmful fishing gear such as longlines, trawlers, gillnets, and driftnets, which result in huge amounts of bycatch and can damage ocean floors and ecosystems. These vessels are also most likely to produce ghost gear. Ghost gear is any fishing gear that has been lost or abandoned, continuing to trap, injure, and kill wildlife such as sea turtles, seabirds, and whales. This is one of the many reasons why stricter international fishing and ocean laws are needed to regulate activities on the high seas. If you want more information on how you can help counter the effects of IUU fishing, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) is a great place to start. GGGI was founded in 2015 and currently has participants from many different sectors all over the world to research and mitigate the effects of ghost gear through diverse projects. Organizations such as this one emphasize once again how ocean health is a global issue that requires intentional, strategic, and cooperative action.


Works Cited

Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (n.d.).

Global Ghost Gear Initiative (2018, November 8). IUU and ghost gear: What are the links?. Global Ghost Gear Initiative.

Global ghost gear initiative. Global Ghost Gear Initiative. (n.d.).

High seas treaty: Historic agreement to protect international waters reached at UN - Animal Survival International. ASI. (2023, March 7).

N.O.A.A. Fisheries (2023, February 13). International and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. NOAA.

Stallard, E. (2023, March 5). Ocean treaty: Historic agreement reached after decade of talks. BBC News.

The Pew Charitable Trusts. (2013, August 27). FAQ: Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. FAQ: Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing.

US Department of Commerce, N. O. A. A. (2013, June 1). What is the EEZ?. NOAA’s National Ocean Service.


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