High Seas Fisheries: Troubled Waters, Tangled Governance and Recovery Prospects

David VanderZwaag

Abstract


Global fisheries are in a perceived state of crisis. Despite growing technological effort and an unprecedented global expansion of fisheries, total landings (85-100 million MT per year) have stagnated and probably entered a period of slow decline. This trend may destabilize ocean ecosystems and undermine world seafood supplies, which provide the major source of protein for 2.3bn people, and international cooperation to address this issue has been slow. This is particularly true for highseas fisheries that occur in international waters encompassing some 61% of the world's ocean. These have been plagued by a fragmented and weak legal framework, poor enforcement of existing regulations, and the problem of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. On the positive side, individual States have introduced measures that have been successful in recovering overexploited resources. Turning the tide on the high seas requires strong government cooperation to enforce conservative harvest levels (quotas), as well as measures that protect biological diversity, such as protected areas, bycatch regulations, and the conservation of critical habitats. This article provides a short overview of the biological, institutional and legal dimensions of high-seas fisheries. It emphasizes that this is a unique time in history, where unprecedented awareness, scientific advances, and a growing willingness to collaborate internationally are setting the stage for a dynamic transformation of high-seas governance. What is missing is a visionary master plan on how to integrate fragmented efforts towards the common goal of sustainable development on the high seas.


This paper was co-authored with Boris Worm, Dalhousie University (bworm@dal.ca).


Keywords


Environmental Law; Fish and Wildlife

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