Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Closing the High Seas Opens Fishing Opportunities

By Reg Watson

Closing international waters to fishing would have little or no effect on global catches but make fishing potentially fairer, safer, better-managed and less polluting.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Following the establishment of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982, the world’s maritime countries made moves to claim sole control over ocean resources in Exclusive Economic Zones extending 200 nautical miles (370 km) of their coastlines. Most of the resources that these nations took were close to shore and in the relatively shallow depths of the continental shelves. It was here that such activities as mineral exploration and oil drilling were possible.

Most fishing also occurred in coastal waters. Almost all fisheries were pursued close to shore where fish stocks were most abundant. Here plankton that supports the marine food web bathes in the sunshine of shallow waters and uses the nutrients either running from rivers or in large ocean upwellings of cool, rich waters.

There was usually no need to travel huge distances from ports and risk profits or lives. Apart from a few rich fisheries, such as the cod off the east coast of Canada and the United States, which has drawn long-distance fleets from Europe for centuries, most fishing was by national fleets in their own coastal waters.

So what changed? The ability to safely and profitably fish the high seas improved with technology, and the depletion of some inshore stocks pushed fishing companies to explore farther afield. By the 1970s, many fleets had left their...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.