Fishing on the High Seas
The high seas are areas of sea not covered by any country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles, or 370 kilometres, out from a country’s coasts. Fishing on the high seas is not governed by any one country, so there is no one set of rules for how many fish can be taken there.
Instead, fishing boats on the high seas must follow the fishing rules of the country where they are registered. Each boat flies the flag of the country they register with to show other boats what country’s rules they are following. Different countries have different rules, and some even have no rules about some fisheries. Because of that, there is a risk that fisheries could be over-fished.
How high seas fishing is managed
To try and prevent fisheries being over-fished, high-seas fishing is governed by a range of international agreements between different countries. New Zealand has signed up to two key international agreements (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement) and is involved in a number of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
This is the main international agreement governing high-seas fishing. It sets out different countries’ rights and duties for fishing anywhere in the high seas.
1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA)
This agreement states how countries should work together to manage highly migratory fisheries and straddling fish stocks that live in both the high seas and one or more EEZs. Management measures might include setting up a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation.
Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs)
Regional Fisheries Management Organisations are groups of countries that meet to decide how to manage fisheries in specific areas. New Zealand is a member of three RFMOs:
- The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
- The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna
- The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
New Zealand is also working with other countries to establish a South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation to cover the fisheries in the South Pacific Ocean from Australia to Chile, and has signed an agreement covering fishing in the high seas of the Southern Indian Ocean.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing)
Illegal fishing happens when fishers break the rules of the country that they are registered with, or the rules of the country in whose waters they are fishing, or the rules put in place by an RFMO.
Unreported fishing happens when fishers do not report, or misreport how many fish they are taking or where they are taking them from.
Unregulated fishing happens when a ship is not registered to any country, or is registered to a country that doesn’t belong to a particular RFMO. This means that the ship doesn’t have to obey the rules for that high-seas fishery. Unregulated fishing also refers to fishing activity in fisheries that don’t have rules.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (or IUU fishing) is a major concern because it means that some fisheries can’t be controlled, and we have no way of knowing what is happening to those fisheries – they could be over-fished until there is no fishery left!