Since the 1950s, fisheries management has benefitted from considerable development of institutions - the sets of rules used for the management of fisheries - and the processes and the organizations that develop and implement these rules.
At an international level, the sets of rules are treaties, both multilateral and bilateral, and other non-binding instruments which are being used by states. Central to these international instruments in fisheries governance is the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a comprehensive treaty covering all aspects of ocean governance, including fishing. An aspect of this Convention, relating to straddling and highly migratory stocks, was elaborated in the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. In addition, there are a large number of bilateral agreements and regional multilateral agreements which form part of the international set of rules governing fisheries.
The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing, adopted by FAO member states in 1995, elaborates the evolving set of voluntary rules for the governance of fisheries, including International Plans of Action and the Strategy for Improving Information on Status and Trends of Capture Fisheries. A range of other agreements not directly relating to fisheries, such as the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, have an important bearing on the governance of fisheries.
For the national governance of fisheries, these sets of rules may take a number of forms, such as national legislation, local regulations or long-standing customary arrangements.
Institutional development during the last few decades has included the establishment of fishermen cooperatives, professional associations (including non-governmental organizations), international regional fishery bodies, intranational regional fishery councils and the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
As well, a number of institutions developed for purposes other than fisheries have an influence on the conduct of fisheries (e.g. the international environmental conventions). Among the United Nations specialized agencies, fisheries is handled by the Food and Agriculture Organization where the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) is a central institution in international fishery matters. As well, a number of other specialized institutions established under the auspices of the UN undertake work relevant for fisheries.