Conservation on the High Seas

Conservation on the High Seas

Harmonizing International Regimes for the Sustainable Use of Living Resources

New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series

Simone Borg

This timely book discusses various international norms that qualify the right, which all states have to access and exploit living resources in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction, in order to promote the conservation of such species.

Chapter 3: The obligation to take conservation measures for living resources on the high seas

Simone Borg

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, maritime law, public international law


By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, fishing on the high seas had already generated sufficient political pressure to lead to the conclusion of various international agreements regulating the exploitation of seals and fisheries. These treaties, which were mainly concerned with allocating national quotas influenced the manner in which states came to exercise their right to access and exploit these same resources. Conservation measures evolved as a means to control over-exploitation by a few states and so to guarantee the universal right of access to these stocks. By the mid-twentieth century, advances in technology had led to a continuous increase in both fishing catches and the industry’s capital costs. To cover these additional expenses and make up for the introduction of stricter conservation requirements such as fishing seasons and the use of more selective fishing gear, the fishing industry intensified its efforts. Originally, the aim of these conservation measures was to secure the sustainability of stocks as a source of food for human consumption. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the perception that international regimes should aim at securing a sound conservation status for all species and their habitat by taking into account their special biological and behavioural characteristics is of more recent origin. The earliest fisheries treaties relied only marginally upon scientific advice and largely ignored other factors that negatively affect the conservation of stocks.

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