In this section

International Cooperation

Currently, there are several international organizations working towards aspects of our goal to save the oceans. The UN has employed several research and management groups and and has set out governance of the oceans by the Law of the Sea and subsequent agreements and annexes. Other organizations for the protection of the oceans include regional fishery bodies (RFBs), also known as regional fishery management councils.

Current International Legislation

The Law of the Sea is a complex and comprehensive document that, when put into action after the Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982, formalized traditional maritime law and outlined rules for the conduct of nations as it relates to boundaries, deep seabed mining, passage through territorial zones, settlement of international disputes, and marine research, among other topics. The Law of the Sea Treaty "marked the culmination of more than 14 years of work involving participation by more than 150 countries representing all regions of the world, all legal and political systems and the spectrum of socio/economic development" (Oceans and LOS, 2007).

The territorial sea is a region up to but not exceeding 12 nautical miles from a baseline, defined in Part I of the LOS as "the low-water line along the coast as marked on large-scale charts officially recognized by the coastal State." Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) are areas not exceeding 200 nautical miles from the baseline in which the coastal state has exclusive mining rights to natural resources. While coastal states maintain sovereignty over their territorial seas, foreign vessels are permitted "innocent passage" without prejudice.

The International Seabed Authority

The International Seabed Authority is a technically autonomous organization created to fulfill Part XI of the UN Law of the Sea treaty. The Authority controls the extraction of minerals and other natural resources from the seabed outside EEZs. The Authority is comprised of five main governing bodies, including the Assembly, the Council, the Legal and Technical Commission, the Finance Commission, and the Secretariat.

The Assembly

"The Assembly of the Authority, its 'supreme organ' with the power to establish general policies, consists of all ISA members. This membership is composed of all parties to the Law of the Sea Convention, numbering 153 at the end of February 2007" (ISA, 2007).

The Council

"As 'the executive organ of the Authority', the Council establishes specific policies in conformity with the Convention and the general policies set by the Assembly. It supervises and coordinates implementation of the elaborate regime established by the Convention to promote and regulate exploration for and exploitation of deep-sea minerals by States, corporations and other entities. Under this system, no such activity may legally take place until contracts have been signed between each interested entity and the Authority. The Council's task is to draw up the terms of contracts, approve contract applications, oversee implementation of the contracts, and establish environmental and other standards" (ISA, 2007).

The Secretariat

The Secretary-General implements Authority policies, external relations, protocol matters, liaison and representation of the Authority.

UN Organizations

The UN has several branches to conduct research, create law, enforce treaties, and settle disputes regarding the Law of the Sea and subsequent treaties relating to the oceans, coasts, and marine life.

UN-OCEANS encompasses most UN operations relating to the oceans. After the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, Agenda 21 - "an international programme of action for global sustainable development for the 21st century" - was adopted (UN-OCEANS, 2005). Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 calls for protection of the oceans, resulting in the formation of the Sub-committee on Oceans and Coastal Areas of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC SOCA) in 1993. Due to the extensive number of agencies and committees already addressing the issue of the oceans and the need for a "new inter-agency coordinating mechanism," in September 2003, "the United Nations High-Level Committee on Programmes approved the creation of an Oceans and Coastal Areas Network (subsequently named 'UN-OCEANS') to build on SOCA" (UN-OCEANS, 2005). As stated on its Web site, UN-OCEANS has been established to:

The partners and/or potential partners of the UN-OCEANS program, which includes any agency expressing a will to be included, are the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), the UN Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea (UN-DOALOS), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), the World Bank (IBRD), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the UN Development Program (UNDP), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Human Settlements Program ("UN-HABITAT"), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN University, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).

The Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN focuses on sustainable fisheries and aquaculture production to meet the needs of the world's population. The department's goals include creating jobs to alleviate poverty, bolstering international trade and economies, and providing a sustainable fish supply. The department has also created a Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Within this Code of Conduct, several International Plans of Action (IPOAs), which would apply to "all States and entities and to all fishers," have been suggested. Specifically, for the management of fishing capacity, "States should take measures to prevent or eliminate excess fishing capacity and should ensure that levels of fishing effort are commensurate with sustainable use of fishery resources." Possible solutions in this case include well-defined property rights for international waters, "incentive blocking measures," such as fishing seasons and closed areas, and "incentive adjusting measures," which would include requiring a fishing license and quotas. The suggested action to be taken currently involves assessing and monitoring fishing capacity as well as preparing and implementing national plans (Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, 2007). Immediate action would focus on major international fisheries requiring urgent attention. Considerations would include the needs of specific countries. International compliance is the main difficulty facing the actual implementation of these proposals. Unfortunately, no specific plans have been on proposed, hence the need for further reforms.

Another IPOA involves shark fisheries. Until recently, sharks had been fished sustainably. At present, however, more effort is being put into shark fishing, and the areas in which shark fishing is done have expanded. There is cause for concern that some shark species are in danger of being overfished. Sharks have particularly long recovery times after they have been overfished. "Conservation and management of sharks is impaired by the lack of accurate data on catch, effort, discards, and trade data, as well as limited information on the biological parameters of many species and their identification." (Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, 2007) In this case, the UN has proposed no cooperative international plan. Rather, the organization suggests that each state be responsible for creating its own plan for managing shark fisheries.

The IPOA for Seabirds aims to reduce the number of birds caught accidentally in commercial longline fisheries. These birds are a form of bycatch. Among the species most frequently caught throughout the world are albatrosses, fulmars, petrels and gulls. The UN recognizes that the situation could result in negative impacts on seabird populations. As with the IPOA-Sharks, there are no distinct international plans requiring collaboration, though national action within states is highly recommended after further assessment of the situation (Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, 2007).

A final and essential IPOA supported by the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department is the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU). Fishing that occurs under any of these categories severely hinders any efforts to conserve fish species and promote sustainable fishing. "This situation leads to the loss of both short and long-term social and economic opportunities and to negative effects on food security and environmental protection." (Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, 2007).

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is defined as fishing within the waters of a state without permission of and against the laws of that state, along with non-reported and misreported catches, and fish stocks with no conservation measures (International Plan Of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, 2001). IUU fishing is a major threat to the world's oceans. For example, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) estimates that nearly 20% of the 2001 trade in redfish was illegal, unreported, or unregulated, and the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) Baltic Fisheries Assessment Working Group estimates that the actual value of Baltic cod catches are 35% to 45% higher than the reported values (ICES, 2005). Most strikingly, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) estimates that between 1997 and 2000 about 90 kilotonnes of toothfish was taken from the oceans in an illegal manner, more than twice the reported catch for the same period (ICES, 2005).

The UN has responded to IUU fishing with the IPOA-IUU. In this case, international cooperation is imperative. Unfortunately, no binding resolutions have been created to control IUU fishing. The sanctions that the IPOA-IUU levies against violators are not enough to prevent them from participating in IUU fishing (Finding Nemo...and Eating Him: The Failure of the United Nations to Force Internalization of the Negative Social Costs that Result from Overfishing).

The UN Environmental Program focuses on scientific issues. Though the UNEP is not currently heading any projects on the oceans, they are one of the UN organizations supporting GESAMP (see below).

The Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection, or GESAMP, is a research team that works on the science of sustainable oceans. GESAMP is a joint initiative supported by several UN organizations, including UNEP, FAO, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Regional Fishery Bodies (RFBs)

Regional fishery bodies are essential to the protection of marine resources and the management of the oceans.

The FAO includes six RFBs:

There are many additional RFBs which are not connected to the FAO.


The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea established that RFBs should have a set of "instruments" with which to protect and manage fisheries through international cooperation. Since then these instruments have been added to by several conventions:

1992 - Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 adopted by the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development
1993 - Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas
1995 - Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries
1995 - Rome Consensus on World Fisheries
1995 - Kyoto Declaration and Plan of Action on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security
1995 - Agreement for the Implementation of the Provision of the United Nations Convention of the Law of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks

These committees dealt with several issues including excess fleet capacity, bycatch and discards, and monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS). They also place more emphasis on the importance of the RFBs and increase their allocated abilities to control fisheries. They also impose certain restrictions on the RFBs: only members of RFBs can legally utilize resources under the control of a RFB. An RFB's actions must be transparent and use a precautionary approach to the management of fisheries. Nations under RFBs are also required to create a framework for carrying out MCS and enforcing international fishing agreements.

However, to this point RFBs have been largely ineffective for a number of reasons, the foremost of which is that few of the RFBs have actually utilized the instruments provided to them by the above agreements. Most RFB mandates only allow them to provide suggestions to their member nations. Also, many RFBs have as members nations with conflicting interests, which has bred inefficiency. In many cases member nations have even refused to abide by the decisions of their RFBs.

The use of RFBs to promote regional cooperation and implementation of international fishery agreements is still a promising idea. In order for their potential to be met, they must be made much more powerful and gain the ability to utilize the instruments given to them by international agreements (Role of Regional Fishing Bodies, 1999).

International Council for the Exploration of the Seas

The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) is a scientific organization based in Copenhagen, Denmark. ICES "coordinates and promotes marine research in the North Atlantic" with the help and expertise of more than 1600 scientists from its twenty member countries ("About us - What do we do?").[1] ICES uses its research to create cohesive marine management plans for its members.

Vision and Goals

The ICES vision is to develop "an international scientific community that is relevant, responsive, sound, and credible concerning marine ecosystems and their relation to humanity." The organization hopes to achieve the vision by advancing "the scientific capacity to give advice on human activities affecting, and affected by, marine ecosystems" (The ICES Strategic Plan, 2002). Specifically, ICES has defined ten major goals in its Strategic Plan:

Understand the physical, chemical, and biological functioning of marine ecosystems;
Understand and quantify human impacts on marine ecosystems, including living marine resources;
Evaluate options for sustainable marine-related industries, particularly fishing and mariculture;
Advise on the sustainable use of living marine resources and protection of the marine environment;
Enhance collaboration with organizations, scientific programs, and stake-holders (including the fishing industry) that are relevant to the ICES goals;
Maintain and further develop a modern and effective infrastructure to support ICES programs;
Keep abreast of the needs and expectations of ICES member countries;
Broaden the diversity of the scientists who participate in ICES activities;
Match the budget of ICES to the needs and expectations for scientific information and advice;
Make the scientific products of ICES more accessible to the public.

(The ICES Strategic Plan, 2002).

ICES has defined three major steps to implement these goals: create specific action plans that "relate activities and costs to the Strategic Plan," monitor the success of its Strategic Plan and update the Plan as necessary (The ICES Strategic Plan, 2002).


The three Advisory Committees oversee the work of all of ICES's scientific and working groups ("About us - ICES Structure"). The Advisory Committees, on fishery management, marine environment, and ecosystem management, each work to support one of the three major components of ICES advice.


The biggest benefit that ICES provides to the world of marine management is its advice service. ICES primarily gives advice in response to requests by member nations, but it may issue unsolicited advice if it feels the need (ICES, 2006). ICES has historically given advice based on single or mixed stock population and mortality targets, but is now beginning to introduce a comprehensive, ecosystem-based approach to its advice (ICES, 2006).

An ICES advice report is given for a specific region of the ocean that has unique ecological and social characteristics. These regions are referred to as "ecoregions" by ICES (ICES, 2006). Each ecoregion report contains an overview section, a report on human impacts on the region, and an assessment of ecological trends in the region and advice based upon those trends.

All ICES advice starts with analysis of single and mixed stock statistics (most notably fishing mortality and spawning stock biomass). The analysis combines publicly available catch data with internal estimates for unaccounted fishing mortality (UFM) to create estimates for the stock's fishing mortality rate. ICES uses historical records to develop critical limits on the spawning stock biomass; outside these limits the stock is considered to have "reduced reproductive capability" (ICES, 2006). The stock is then classified based on its reproductive capacity and ability remain stable under current fishing pressure (ICES, 2006). These stock parameters are also used to set boundaries on fishing mortality rates and spawning stock biomass values for use in management plans.

ICES continues by analyzing the effectiveness of different management plans for their ability to improve the health of the stock and their compliance with any international or national agreements to which the ecoregion may be subject. In general, plans are considered acceptable if they show that there is very little (less than 5%) chance that the plan will result in a spawning stock biomass less than the already defined critical level (ICES, 2006).

After selecting a management plan for each stock, scientists examine the effects of stock interaction and adjust their models accordingly. In the final phase, the effects of the management plan on the ecosystem are examined. Because this portion of the review is new, concrete standards have not been defined, and ways to quantify impacts on the ecosystem are still being researched. If findings show that the health of the ecosystem warrants special restrictions, however, those restrictions are incorporated into the management plan (ICES, 2006).

[1] Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America are members of ICES. Australia, Chile, Greece, New Zealand, Peru, and South Africa are affiliate countries.