Ocean Science Series: High Seas Fisheries Management Gets Low Marks

Fishing on the high seas—areas beyond the 200-nautical-mile jurisdiction of coastal states—is increasing, largely driven by advanced vessel and gear technology, which facilitates fishing far from shore. High seas fisheries are overseen by various regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs)—intergovernmental bodies made up of nations that have agreed to cooperatively manage fish stocks beyond their national boundaries. Although RFMOs were established to manage and conserve high seas fish stocks, these populations are declining (Myers and Worm 2003).

To illuminate any contradiction between stated management goals and the status of managed fish stocks, Sarika Cullis-Suzuki and Daniel Pauly, researchers at the University of British Columbia, developed a way to score the performance of RFMOs “on paper” versus “in practice.” Their results show that on paper, RFMOs are not meeting best practice standards and, in practice, are failing to halt the dramatic declines of fish stocks for which they have management responsibility.