Fram Centre

The growing importance of regional oceans cooperation

марта 04, 2019
A valuable development in international oceans governance is the growing importance of regional cooperation. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization FAO, there are currently about 60 international organizations that deal with in regional oceans governance. The increase in the number of these organizations is partly driven by the regional nature of many of the challenges confronting us in the oceans, as is the case is for the Arctic. Another important driver is the provisions on regional cooperation in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement.

Feature story by Alf Håkon Hoel, Professor at UiT – the Arctic University of Norway

Photo: Fram Centre



The organizations identified by the FAO is a diverse group. Some deals with science as for example the International Council for the Expolration of the Sea (ICES), others engage in fisheries management such as the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), while others again address the marine environment as the North Atlantic marine environment organization OSPAR does. There are also organizations with mandates covering several topics.

In fisheries there are currently about 20 regional bodies with mandates to establish legally binding management measures. About 140 statens are members of one or more of these bodies. Over the last two decades major developments have taken place: Several new bodies have been established for areas where none existed. And existing organizations have modernized their statutes according to the standards laid down in the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, including a precautionary approach to management and enhanced cooperation on enforcement of regulations.

Regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) fall into one of three categories: First of all, there are the five international tuna organizations. The Law of the Sea Conventions has specific provisions for highly migratory species, including tuna. Secondly, there are the generalregional fisheries management organizations which manage straddling fish stocks that exist both in waters under national jurisdiction and in the high seas beyond the 200 nautical mile zones. A third group consist of specialized organizations addressing specific functions such as science or specific species such as salmon.


Norway is party to a number of such regional fisheries management organizations. In the tuna group, Norway participates in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the world´s largest regional fisheries organization. In the group of generalregional organizations Norway is party to four: The Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), the Southeast Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO), and the Commission for the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). In the third group of specialized organizations related to fisheries Norway participates in the North Atlantic Marine Mammals Commission (NAMMCO)and the North Atlantic Salmon Organization (NASCO). In addition, Norway is a member of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) which provides scientific advice for management to the coastal states and to regional organizations. Also, Norway is a signatory to the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated Fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean which is not yet in force.

The performance of the regional fisheries management organizations is mixed and oftensubject to debate. A number of fisheries managed by RFMOs targets stocks that are overexploited, and it could be argued that in such cases the regional organizations are not implementing the standards of the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. But it could also be argued that these organizations are no better than their members allow them to be and that criticism should also be addressed to the governments that are resisting adequate management measures and their enforcement.

In recent years the regional fisheries management organizations have conducted performance reviews yielding recommendations for improvement. These reviews are crucial in order tostrengthen the performance of these organizations and their role in oceans governance overall. Also, the international cooperation within organizations contributes to a better understanding of the need for sustainable management of resources and mutual understanding of the challenges facing different countries in this respect.

In a broader perspective it seems clear that the regional level of cooperation will becomeincreasingly important in the years ahead. This applies not only to fisheries, but also to oceans governance in general as well as to other topics such as the marine environment. This is evident in the Arctic, where a number of new regional agreements have emerged in less than a decade, addressing search and rescue, oil spill prevention, international cooperation in science(all negotiated under Arctic Council auspices), shipping (the Polar Code in the International Maritime Organization), coast guard cooperation, and fisheries management.

Finally, the issue of regional cooperation in oceans governance is now a global issue, in particular in the ongoing negotiations in the UN of a treaty addressing conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). The role of regional bodies is open to discussion, with some actors arguing for more global governance while others favor regional solutions that build on the existing international framework based on the Law of the Sea Convention.

As viewed from the High North, the regional model is much to be preferred.


This story was first published on the website of the Fram Centre


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