THE INTERNATIONAL REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
The 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement
One year after the Law of the Sea Convention was ratified (1994), the limitations of the treaty were already so clear that an agreement was reached for the conservation and management of “straggling and highly migratory” fish stocks. Adopted in 1995, it provided an ecosystem approach, based on the precautionary principle for fish stock management.
The agreement called for:
- The adoption of measures to help ensure the long-term sustainability of fish stocks.
- Cooperation between nations to conserve and manage stocks, either directly or through RFOs (regional fishing organizations).
The key measures in the Fish Stocks Agreement include:
- Article 5 on sustainability
- Article 6 on the precautionary approach
- Article 18 on the duties of States
- Article 19 detailing the compliance and enforcement requirements that the Agreement imposes on States.
The 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries
From 1999 onwards, 124 nations pledged to put an end to destructive fishing practices, under the Rome Declaration on responsible fisheries. They thus committed to apply the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
The 2002 Johannesburg Declaration
The 2002 Johannesburg Declaration (World Summit on Sustainable Development) encouraged the application, by 2010, of the ecosystem approach to ocean management, via the end of destructive fishing practices and the creation of marine protected zones by 2012.
FAO Guidelines for the management of deep-sea fisheries
Two FAO technical consultations in Rome, in February and August 2008, detailed the concepts used in the UN resolution, the management options, the measures to be adopted by States and the international regulatory framework.
The report concluded that deep-sea fisheries should cease until it was scientifically proven that they could be sustainable.
Resolution 59/25 (paragraph 66), 2004
The first UN resolution calling on nations to temporarily ban the destructive fishing practice of deep-sea trawling in international waters was adopted in 2004 (Resolution 59/25, paragraph 66).
Resolution 61/105 (paragraphs 80-91), 2006
The second UN resolution regulating deep-sea fishing in international waters was adopted in 2006 and was much more detailed than its predecessor. It called for urgent action from nations and instated the principle of reversing the burden of proof in fisheries management (paragraphs 80-91).
In December 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution on the viability of fisheries, which stipulates that States and Regional Fishing Organizations (RFOs) must:
- Take measures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems from the impacts of destructive fishing.
- Cease fishing immediately if a vulnerable habitat is encountered.
- Evaluate impacts before commencing fishing and implement protective measures (detailed in paragraphs 80-91) before 31 December 2008, without which States and RFOs must not authorize fishing.
- Ensure the sustainability of deep-sea fish stocks.
- Provide for the creation of a global database on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) in international waters, and submit a list of authorized vessels engaged in high-seas deep-sea fisheries (ftp://ftp.fao.org/FI/DOCUMENT/UNGA/deep_sea/UNGA61_105.pdf).
- Resolution 64/72, 2009
This resolution further strengthens the obligations of deep-sea fishing nations to ensure that their fishing practices and methods do not harm the marine environment or fish species. It outlines the following obligations:
- No fishing is to occur before an environmental impact study is carried out, following FAO guidelines on conducting impact studies.
- Fishing must be based on fish stocks that permit sustainable stock exploitation.
What is truly new in this resolution is the fact that vessels must conduct stock evaluations for both target fish stocks and non-target species (“accidental” catch, or “bycatch” species).
The resolution reiterates that all measures outlined under resolution 61/105 must be implemented before these fisheries are authorized.
The application of this resolution was revised, as scheduled, at the end of 2011.
NEAFC : North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission
The NEAFC, the regional organisation which is concerned with managing catches in the International waters of the North-East Atlantic, adopted a regulation concerning the management of deep-sea fishing which comes into contact with the seabed, inspired directly by the EU resolutions.
UN Sustainable Development Summit 2015
Rio+20 Conference, 2012 : A set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is developed to bring together the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and environmental concerns under one global framework.
July 2014 : the Open Working Group on SDGs submitted its proposed goals to the United Nations General Assembly. A stand-alone Ocean SDG is included, which is to: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. 
It was during the UN 2015 Sustainable Development Summit held in New York September 25-27 2015 that the international community formally adopted the SDGs and thus included the oceans in its development programme for the first time.
Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that were set up, the fourteenth was particularly ambitious :