Fisheries Management

Fisheries Management Under 1982 UNCLOS

UNCLOS governs fisheries on the high seas as well as the EEZ. The coastal state must manage fish stocks in the EEZ. The need to ensure that:

  • ensure that fish stocks are not endangered by over-exploitation
  • ensure the maintenance of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for the fishery
  • optimize the utilization of living resources if the EEZ
  • establish the allowable catch for each fish stock within the EEZ

Coastal states have broad discretion in setting the MSY, and access to the EEZ by other states is allowed when the coastal state cannot harvest the whole allowable catch.

Jurisdiction of Coastal States Over Fisheries

Environmental protections over fish stocks in waters in the EEZ are established by the jurisdiction of coastal states over its fisheries of up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline. Within the EEZ, the coastal state has jurisdiction covering:

  • artificial islands and installations
  • marine scientific research
  • preservation of the marine environment

Natural resources outside the continental shelf are subject to the common heritage of humankind and administered by the International Seabed Authority. Some high-seas fishing activities have multiple fisheries commissions regulating the taking of fish in particular regions.

The 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement

The Fish Stocks Agreement (FSA) concerns the jurisdiction of a state over its fishing vessels on the high seas and the port control over ships in its ports. It requires states to cooperate through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). Only those states who are members of the RFMOs can have access to those fisheries resources. Vessels of non-cooperating non-members are listed on the illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) list.

The FSA creates obligations on third-party states outside the treaty regime and requires non-members to comply with the RFMO requirements.


The primary responsibility for enforcement on the high seas rests with the flag state. The primary responsibility for enforcement within the EEZ rests with the coastal state. Where fish stocks are migratory, the enforcement falls to the RFMO and back to the flag state.

Under the FSA, the flag state must investigate all alleged violations of the RFMO.

2009 Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU

Most fishing vessels fly flags of convenience (FOC), and these countries have a poor record of enforcing – or being able to enforce – their requirements under the UNCLOS. This treaty shifted some enforcement efforts to the port state, aiming to detect illegal fishing and stop these fish from being brought to market. Ships suspected of IUU may be denied entrance to the port and are subject to inspection.

The EU Common Fisheries Policy

In 2002 and 2007, the EU took steps to eliminate IUU. They looked at ways to reach higher compliance with EU rules in EU waters, find effective ways to persuade flag states to enforce the rules, and intensify investigation and enforcement of IUU activities.

The EU IUU regulation applies to IUU fishing within EU jurisdiction states and those carried out by EU and non-EU vessels on the high seas. Landing obligations are set on a fishery-by-fishery basis and allow transfer quotas between years and between states. The EU states also committed to improving selective fishing techniques to reduce as far as possible unwanted catches.