Governance of Exclusive Economic Zones


The exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is "the area adjacent to a coastal state which encompasses all waters between: (a) the seaward boundary of that state, (b) a line on which each point is 200 nautical miles (370.40 km) from the baseline from which the territorial sea of the coastal state is measured (except when other international boundaries need to be accommodated), and (c) the maritime boundaries agreed between that state and the neighbouring states". In simpler terms, it is a zone under national jurisdiction (up to 200-nautical miles wide) outlined in the provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, within which the coastal State has the right to explore and exploit, and the responsibility to conserve and manage, living and non-living resources.

The EEZ resources may be entirely contained within the EEZ limits and be managed solely by the coastal state in conformity with the provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. Some of these resources may, however, extend beyond the EEZ boundaries, into the neighbouring exclusive economic zone (shared stocks) requiring sharing and management agreements with neighbouring coastal states. Some may also extend into, or migrate through, the high seas (straddling stocks) and as such need to be managed in cooperation with other countries, usually under the aegis of a regional fishery management organisation. The basic rules for such agreements are provided by the 1995 UN Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (often referred to as the UN Fish Stocks Agreement) which is not yet in force. The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, adopted in 1995, is the main guide to the practical implementation of all the relevant instruments needed for fisheries governance.

A challenge to fisheries management

The challenge is to manage fisheries in such a way as to ensure the optimum and sustainable use of resources as well as economic efficiency and widespread social benefits. Governments have the responsibility for fisheries management. They may delegate such responsibility to specialised agencies and should promote effective participation, including in decision-making, of those operating in the fisheries sector or also using the aquatic resources and their environment for different purposes.

More than ninety percent of the global fish catch is taken within zones that are under national jurisdiction. It follows, therefore, that these are the areas where most fisheries management problems occur. Such problems are not new: for more than 50 years, at least since the London Conference on Overfishing (1946), recognition has been given to the need for governments to be aware of the state of their fisheries, to adopt policies aimed at preventing the depletion of resources and a wastage of fisheries inputs and, increasingly, to assist in the recovery and rehabilitation of over-fished stocks. With about 25 percent of the main commercial stocks for which data is available being overfished and 50 percent more being fully exploited, the need for better governance is clear.

In the 1980s it was widely anticipated that fisheries governance (and state of resources) would improve substantially in parallel with the establishment of extended national jurisdiction. Subsequent experience has shown that, even under the most favourable circumstances, achieving good governance and resource sustainability is a protracted and difficult process. Those governments that now have soundly managed fisheries in their EEZs generally owe this achievement to 20 to 40 years of continuous effort and adjustment.

In many countries, governance has continued to languish for a variety of reasons, including inadequate institutions (including unclear users' rights), a scarcity of the human and financial resources required to devise and implement management programmes; a lack of understanding, by both governments and fisheries participants, of the potential benefits that good management can generate; and the reluctance of governments to make unpopular decisions.


Developing countries have become major participants in the global fishery sector but most of them require improvements in their fisheries governance and financial as well as technical assistance. They require the scientific, technical and administrative capabilities necessary to formulate and implement appropriate fisheries management plans and to assess their outcomes and to take any necessary follow-up action. Unfortunately, the countries with the poorest fisheries governance are often those whose populations face more pressing, fundamental problems such as war, civil disturbances and natural disasters.

A fundamental policy consideration is the strengthening of fisheries institutions so that they have the capacity to provide independent technical advice and guidance throughout the sector. The trend in the governance of fisheries is for management functions to devolve progressively from government, without detracting from its stewardship role, to include the direct involvement of fisheries participants, the conferring of user rights and the financing of governance from within the sector. At the same time, it must be accepted that improved benefits will not be an immediate outcome from better governance. The structural adjustments that are required in many fisheries will take a long time to become effective.

Related Resources

Related Events

No records found.

Related Website

No records found.

Related Books

No records found.

Related Multimedia

No records found.

Related Institution

No records found.

Related Projects

No records found.