United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides coastal States with exclusive sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve and manage fisheries within 200 nautical miles (370.4 kilometres) of their shores. But the Convention contains gaps concerning the rights of states regarding highly migratory and straddling fish stocks.

The United Nations Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of December 10, 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, commonly referred to as UNFA, fills in those gaps.

Straddling fish stocks "straddle" or migrate across the outer limit of the national fisheries waters of coastal States and the adjacent high seas (i.e. outside the 200-mile limit). Cod, flounder, and turbot are examples of straddling fish stocks.

UNFA provides a framework for the conservation and management of highly migratory and straddling fish stocks in international waters regulated by regional fisheries management organizations such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The Agreement obliges States to err on the side of caution (called the precautionary approach) and to recognize that changes in one area of an ecosystem can impact other areas (ecosystem-based fisheries management) when managing these fish stocks. The agreement also reiterates the obligation of States to control the fishing activities of their vessels in international waters and requires them to minimize pollution, waste and discards of fish.

An important innovation in UNFA is that States have the right to monitor and inspect vessels of other State parties to verify compliance with internationally agreed fishing rules. The agreement also provides a compulsory and binding dispute settlement mechanism to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner.

Highly migratory fish stocks travel through large areas of international waters and through the 200-mile limits of coastal States. Tuna is an example of a highly migratory fish stock.

Canada believes that proper conservation and management will make a significant contribution to ensure the sustainability of the important fish resources of its oceans, and so it played a leading role in the development of UNFA. Canada signed the agreement on December 4, 1995 and ratified it on August 3, 1999.

UNFA entered into force upon ratification by the 30th State on December 11, 2001. To date, 59 States and entities have signed the agreement.

Date modified: