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

By Worm, Boris; Vanderzwaag, David | Behind the Headlines, September 2007 | Go to article overview

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


Worm, Boris, Vanderzwaag, David, Behind the Headlines


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 high-seas 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) fishings. On the positive side, individual States have introduced measures that have been successful in recovering overexploited resources. Turning the tide on the high se, as 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.

Malgre un effort technologique et une expansion sans precedent des peches mondiales, celles-ci passent pour etre en etat de crise: les prises totales (85-100 millions Mt par an) stagnent et sont probablement entrees dans une periode de lent declin. Cette tendance risque de destabiliser les ecosystemes oceaniques et de miner les reserves mondiales de poissons et de fruits de mer, qui constituent la principale source de proteines pour 2,3 milliards de personnes. La cooperation internationale visant a resoudre ce probleme s'opere lentement. Cela est particulierement vrai dans le cas de la peche en haute mer, pratiquee dans les eaux internationales, qui representent quelque 61% des oceans du monde. Elle est caracterisee par un cadre, juridique fragmente et faible, une mauvaise application des reglementations existantes et le probleme de la peche illegale, non declaree et non reglementee. Sur une note plus positive, certains Etats ont mis en en place des mesures qui ont permis le retablissement des ressources surexploitees. Le redressement de la situation en haute mer reclamera une forte collaboration gouvernementale pour faire respecter des niveaux (quotas) de prelevement moderes et des mesures protegeant la diversite biologique, comme des zones protegees, des reglements sur les prises accessoires et la conservation des habitats cruciaux. Le present article offre un bref survol des dimensions biologiques, institutionnelles et juridiques des peches en haute mer. Il souligne que nous vivons un moment unique dans l'histoire, ou une conscience, des progres scientifiques sans precedent et un empressement croissant a collaborer au niveau international preparent le terrain a une transformation dynamique de la gouvernance en haute mer. Ce qui fait defaut, c'est un plan d'ensemble visionnaire d'integration des efforts fragmentes vers le but commun du developpement durable en haute mer.

INTRODUCTION

Fisheries have long been important in feeding a growing human population. They also have often been a contentious issue, causing conflicts among individuals, communities as well as nation states. Over the last decades, as the natural limits to the global seafood supply became evident, those conflicts have become more prevalent, giving rise to international laws and treaties that introduce governance systems beyond the immediate coastal waters. …

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