UN seeks to protect high seas

On 24 December, 140 member states of the United Nations voted to launch a 2 year process aiming to creating an international treaty to protect the high seas. This would extend protections to the oceans beyond national maritime boundaries. International waters account for over half the planet’s surface. The process will convene a two year intergovernmental conference to establish full treaty negotiations.

The importance of this agreement cannot be overstated. For example, vessels from ten rich nations, like Japan, Korea, and Spain, take 71% of catch from the high seas. Their efforts are supported by government subsidies that allow their ships to range far beyond their home ports. This translates to reduced catches globally for those nations that are not able to subsidise their fishing fleets’ efforts.

The resolution, coordinated by the governments of Mexico and New Zealand was supported by 140 co-sponsors. Noticeable abstentions included Iceland, Japan, South Korea, the USA, Russia and China.

The vote means that the UN will hold four meetings over the next two years at which representatives will draft a final treaty to be produced by 2020. If a new high seas protection treaty is ultimately enacted, it will have to rely on the efforts of member states’ navies and maritime authorities for enforcement.