Adopted in 1982 and put into force in 1994, the United Nations Convention Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) is considered a “constitution for the oceans”. UNCLOS established basic codes of conduct for the world’s oceans including delineating jurisdictions, setting rules for navigation and providing guidelines for the conservation and management of living marine resources and the marine environment.
UNCLOS also established Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) for “coastal states” – or countries that border bodies of water. These zones extend up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline. Within these zones, coastal states have certain exclusive rights and responsibilities including fishing and the enforcement of environmental laws.
While UNCLOS addressed species that stayed close to the shores of coastal states, new provisions were needed to address highly migratory species such as tuna which might pass through or inhabit areas outside the jurisdictions of coastal states.
Adopted in 1995 and entering into force in late 2001, the U.N. Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) specifically addressed the management of highly migratory species outside the 200 mile boundaries of coastal states and placed the responsibility of stewardship for these species with international organizations such as RFMOs.
Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been actively involved in the development, implementation and information-sharing component of high seas fisheries management.