Committee : Environment 

Issue : Counteracting overfishing for a sustainable use of marine resources

Chair : Diane Jacquet


Oceans cover 71% of the globe. They play a key role in the prosperity of life on Earth: they regulate temperature by absorbing almost 30% of the CO2 produced by human activities, produce 70% of our oxygen, reduce the impact of global warming and are full of various riches which are mostly unknown. But in recent years, marine resources continue to shrink to the point of being endangered. The main cause: overfishing. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), overfishing at its current pace will have emptied the waters of almost all fish stocks by 2050. The international community is aware of the issue: UN Member States adopted in 2015 the action plan Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, and the sustainable development goal (SDG) 14 targets, 4 directly concern the problem: "by 2020, effectively regulate fishing and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined

by their biological characteristics.


             Overfishing has taken a global dimension and has spread to most of the species fished by the mid 20th century. Industrial methods adopted then were focusing on the short term. The consequences are those that we see today.

 Key terms definitions

Marine Protected Area (MPA)

           Marine protected areas are limited and defined areas in the sea. The legislations are set by competitive authorities on a local, regional or national scale in order to preserve fish stocking, maintain the natural resources (such as wrecks and archaeological sites) and to allow the ecosystem to regenerate. MPAs come in different forms: national parks,  marine nature parks, marine reserves, fisheries conservation areas, etc. MPAs exploitation restrictions are not similar and can vary. Exploitation can be totally prohibited in areas like marine reserves (1% of the ocean's surface), whereas in other areas the access is being regulated (3% of the oceans) for activities such as fishing.  The definition of an MPA can be confusing: there are those who consider that these areas must be made into sanctuaries, which means free from human activities, and those who think that this is not an issue  and  that we should allow free access to facilities in them.

             Marine/Coastal communities

             A coastal community is a group of people living near a coast. These communities have a particular link with their marine environment as it represents a big part of their economic income (tourism, fishing and leisure) and they directly depend on (and endure) any changes these areas can undergo.

            Territorial waters

        Territorial waters are the areas where the sovereignty of the coastal State is exercised. They expand from the coast until approximately 22 km (12 miles) further. Their limits are set at half distance if neighboring states are close to less than 44km. This definition has been set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1973.


        Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This specialized agency of the UN has the biggest worldwide database on agriculture, hunger and nutrition. Countries with fishing fleets have to declare their amount of fish caught per year to the department of fishing and aquaculture, according to the institutional frameworks for fisheries governance.

              International waters/high seas

 64% of oceans lying beyond EEZ and excluding seas which are within a country, are said to be international waters, which are also referred to as high seas. These high seas make up more than half of the world's surface, and belongs to no country which means it’s free of access. The international seabed is considered to be a “ common heritage to humanity”, which means that no one can take ownership for its ressources. Although management frameworks were established for this area at the 1982 Montego Bay Convention on the Law of the Sea, there has been little regulation especially concerning fishing. In result to this exploitation, high seas are rapidly deteriorating. Moreover with the ever decreasing fish stock, ships need to sail further and further to find fish.


                                                                                                                                        International waters (with extension of EEZ)

Continental shelf (possible                                

extension of EEZ)    


                                                                                                                                          International waters (without extension of EEZ)

Exclusive economic Zone (200


Contiguous zone (12 miles)

Territorial sea (12 miles)

Inland waters                                                                                                                 Baseline ( Average sea level,  low tide)                                                                                                                                    


                                             Schematic map of maritime zones

 Source :

             Illegal fishing

Also known as IUU fishing (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing), illegal fishing refers to pirate fishing. The FAO defines in detail IUU fishing in their international action plan, which aims to prevent, thwart and eliminate illegal unreported and unregulated fishing. (section II 3)




A fishery is an area designed for fishing, processing caught fish, or for fish farming.


The phenomenon of unwanted fish and other marine creatures getting trapped by commercial fishing nets during fishing is known as bycatch. These may be members of the hunted species considered too young, marine mammals, fishes from another specie than the targetted on, or even birds. Millions of dying animals are then thrown back into the sea every year. The most significant losses are in the tropical shrimp fishery where, according to Greenpeace, 90% of the catch is bycatch.

              Food security

           Food security characterizes a situation where a population has a guaranteed access to food in enough quantity and quality to ensure a healthy and active life. There are four main factor  :

-the availability (enough quantity)

- the quality (nutritional and hygienic)

- the access (capacity to buy or produce)

-the stability (climatic, social and economic factors)


A stock is a management unit: it is the exploitable part of a fish population able to reproduce and which share the same biological characteristics. The life expectancy, the reproductive age and the fishing intensity make a stock fluctuate.


Overfishing happens when the fishing activity is so intense that it prevent marine resources to regenerate naturally. Fish stocks then collapse and may disappear. A global study from 2014 published in the Marine Ecology Progress review shows that the big predators fish stocks have, in average, plummeted by more than two thirds since the last century. The 2016 FAO’s report indicates that in 2013, 68,6% of the world marine stocks were exploited at a sustainable level (of which 58,1% were exploited to their fullest and while 10,5% were not fully exploited) and 31,4 % were unsustainably exploited: in other words, nearly 90 % of the stocks are fully exploited or overexploited.

Capture d’écran 2017-10-19 à 21.11.48.png

Evolution of the world's fishing stocks since 1974

Source :


              Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)

             An EEZ is a maritime area located between territorial and international waters. It belongs to a coastal state which owns the exclusivity of it resources  exploitation.  This zone is defined by the Law of the Sea by a strip of 370 km (200 miles) starting from the coast if there is no other shoreline. Otherwise, the limit is set at the middle of the shorelines. A ship wishing to enter a foreign EEZ must open negotiations with the concerned state in order to legally access them.

General overview

A poor fishery management 

       Different fishing regulations  exist at different scales. For instance the Common Fishery Policy (CFP) manages the fishing fleets within the European Union. However these regulations are not restrictive and efficient enough. Indeed, the CFP had to undergo in 2014 an ambitious reform in order to strengthen its previous regulations which - according to the European Commission - failed to increase the stock level of fish because of their lack of restrictions.

There is also a lack of fishing regulations in situations like the one concerning international  waters, where fishing in deep water is particularity devastating. Indeed boats that want to avoid national regulations go fishing just beyond their EEZ. The transnational aspect of this zone  causes the «  Tragedy of common good » phenomenon.

Additionally, there is also a lack of applications of those rules. To be applied and respected, a reinforcement of controls and sanctions is needed. And even if  established quotas are respected, they often do not correspond to the estimated quotas for a sustainable use of fishery resources. The latter are evaluated  by scientifics from national, international and regional institutions such  as  ICSE - International Council of Sea Exploration - and RFMO - Regional Fishery Management Organisation. For example, in 2015/2016, the ICCAT ( International Commission for the Conservation Atlantic Tunas) followed scientific advices in only  43% of the cases.

Furthermore, the world fleet is in overcapacity: there are too many vessels. According to the European Commision, the current global capacity is of 2 to 3 times higher than the sustainable level. This makes the fleet economically unsustainable. Overcapacity lead to a strong competition which can encourage fishers to defy the reglementations, or put a pressure when fixing realistic quotas, all of it leading to overfishing. Although overcapacity and overfishing are strongly linked, overfishing could be avoided if better regulated.

Then comes the problem of subventions. The UN estimates that total subventions amount to 35 billion dollars. This money, attributed to the construction and modernisation of ships, mostly benefits intensive fishing activities and encourages overfishing. Many countries agree on the fact that they must be eliminated, but others, including some in Asia, are more reluctant. This sensitive issue has been addressed during the (ocean conference) in New York in June 2017, where the countries have vowed to reduce subventions. Public subventions dedicated to the fishing sector also lack transparency.

Another problem is fish traceability. Indeed, the traders and custom officials do not always assure the customers that the fish comes from legal and sustainable fishing. Therefore, said customers may unknowingly support overfishing. Only a transparent market would ensure the regulation is respected. Current reforms, such as the ones implemented by the African Union and Europe, emphasise the importance of this point. In spite of this, too much of the key information (about the status of fish stocks, ecosystems, catch numbers…) is still hidden from the public. Initiatives have been taken by organisms such as the FiTI (, a global initiative which encourages efforts on a regional, national, and international scale in order to develop a responsible fisheries governance. Certificates of sustainable fishing, provided by the NGO Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and other eco-labels also exist, but are controversial as they are not always representative of sustainable fishing. They lack public certification and credibility.

        Destructive fishing methods

          Nowadays, vessels have numerous of technological tools (sonar, radar, freezing technology etc) to maximise their amount of catch. Some methods are more devastating than others for the aquatic ecosystem. This is the case of deep water fishing by trawlers, which is recognise by the scientific and international community as the most destructive one. These factory vessels, that represent 80% of the fishing in deep seas according to the NGO Bloom, can fish with a depth of 2000m, sweep the seabed with nets as long as 4 football pitches, leave a ground deprived from its biodiversity (corals etc), and destroy marine organisms’ habitats. Moreover, this method isn’t selective and leads to a great number of bycatch, which can represent up to 90% of the total catches according to the Marine Conservation Institute. This fishing often takes place in open (international) waters and is generally regulated in territorial waters, but there is a global lack of sanctions.


A beam trawls, a type of bottom trawl                                                                                                                            

        The use of poisons is also common. Generally, some cyanide is poured in the water. Then, it is enough to get back stunned fish floating on the surface. Simultaneously, other organisms are killed in like corals and seaweeds. It is thought that 65 tonnes of cyanide are poured every year on the Philippine’s coasts.

       “Dynamite fishing”  is another plague: the dynamite is activated under water in order to retrieve dead fish from the surface. The marine environment is completely destroyed. 

       There is finally what we call the “ghost fishing”: this concerns neglected nets in the sea which pointlessly capture marine creatures. According to the WWF, approximately 1000 km of ghost nets are released in the north Pacific Ocean every year, and according to a report of the FAO and UNEP, there are approximately 640000 tonnes of these nets in the oceans. They represent 10% of ocean plastic waste.


          Fish farming

             The exploitation of maritime resources is practiced either in nature, or in an environment created by man, which is the case of  fish farming. According to the report of the FAO, an important step was taken in 2014, when the contribution of the fish farming sector to the offer of fish intended for the human consumption overtook for the first time that of the sector of “wild” fishing. Yet, fish farming is a controversial practice. According to some it can be a solution to overfishing. It could limit the exploitation of certain wild species and answer the always increasing request of proteins. For others it could worsen the problem.

Indeed, for 1kg of farmed fish, approximately 5 kg of fished fish are required. Farmed fish being mainly carnivorous, fish farming can contribute to the pressure of fishing on wild species. Furthermore, cages are often overcrowded, which favors the proliferation of bacteria. Certain criticisms also point out an intensive use of antibiotics. There are finally negative economic effects: we can give the example of the salmon farms on the coast of the Chiloé islands in Chile which ravaged the economy and the local environment. The devices employed use chemicals and antibiotics, which favor the proliferation of micro algae toxic seaweeds contaminating the marine environment surrounding by creating "red tides". The closure of a large number of farm raised the unemployment rate in the port by 60 % according to Le Monde. In all, we agree to say that fish farming can be a way of responsible fishing if it follows certain principles of sustainable management. There are labels for sustainable fish farming.

            Capture d’écran 2017-10-19 à 23.36.21.png

Table of the production and utilisation of fishing and aquaculture in the world


Pirate fishing or IUU fishing

          Accorded to the FAO, IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing) represents around 26 millions tonnes of fish per year, more than 15 % of the global production of captures fishe in the world. Pirate vessels do everything possible not to be noticed by authorities. For example, they switch their catches with other vessels in the sea so that fishes illegally caught end up mixed with legal ones. Pirate vessels use forbidden and damaging fishing methods and don’t follow the established quotas or any other laws. They are everywhere but mostly in the high sea. Many pirate ships navigate under flags of convenience or even don’t have a flag. IUU fishing can constitute real large-scale network, like in the South of Italy or in Indonesia. Pirates vessels make sure they catch fish where they know communities don’t have the power to defend themselves. This can cause         a loss of money for those communities which use sustainable fishing techniques. According to Greenpeace, Guinea loses more than 100 millions dollars per year because of this unfair competition.

            Pirate fishing is firmly condemned by all organizations. Several methods to combat this maritime scourge have been put in place; such as Greenpeace’s practical guide to combatting piracy on a local scale.
In June 2016, the first constraining international
 treaty, aimed to combat INN fishing, came into force. It was adopted by 29 countries as well as by the EU and has as an objective to take measures concerning the entrance of a ship in a port.

The case of convenience flags                                                                          

      Convenience flags are ships registered in a country, different to the one they originate from. The chosen countries are those where there is very little fishing restriction, such as Panama or Liberia. According to the rules governing high seas, the rules of the country for which the boat is registered applies to it.

            Convenience flags, registered in other countries, can, therefore, exploit the seas by bypassing constraining legislations and controls. In 2015, according to a study of maritime transport by the UN, they represented 71% of the capacity of transport of global maritime market. The westerners are the primary users of this method.     

The direct environmental consequences

        Only a small number of species are made use of in fisheries, yet all marine species are threatened by overfishing and particularly by deep-water trawling. The FAO estimates that approximately 6,8 million aquatic creatures are thrown overboard every year. Said catches also represent a great waste from an economic point of view. Since different fish species often live together, by-catches may include species  for which fishing is prohibited, such as cod in Canadian waters.

       The destruction of an entire ecosystem

        The disappearance of larger fish species (such as tuna, sharks, rays, groupers…), which are the ones predominantly targeted by fishermen, has an impact on the entire marine food chain, thus endangering other species. Besides, certain fishing techniques are causing important damage to the ecosystem, in particular to the seabed ecosystems, which are as valuable as they are vulnerable. The zones which overfishing affects the most are the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Bering Sea, as well as several of the western regions of the Pacific Ocean.    

The indirect environmental consequences

The relationship between overfishing and food insecurity

             According to the WWF, approximately 3 billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein, making it the main protein source in people’s diets worldwide. Furthermore, worldwide fish consumption has almost doubled over the last fifty years, with the FAO reporting that the average yearly fish consumption increased from 10 kg per person to 19 kg today. Seeing as the global supplies are decreasing, this will prove to be a challenge if 9,7 billion people are to be fed in 2050. 

Capture d’écran 2017-10-20 à 00.26.00.pngCapture d’écran 2017-10-20 à 00.26.08.png

Mondial map of the average capita fish supply                  


           Many States consume all of their annual fishing stocks before the actual end of the year. This date comes sooner and sooner. Thus, they depend on fish importation to meet the national demand. According to a report of the News Economic Foundation and Oceana 2012, this day of dependance happened on 2 July for the EU in 2011.

Capture d’écran 2017-07-24 à 10.26.24.png

Commercial flows of fishing per continent                                                                                          Source:

The survival of coastal communities

Coasts represent 20 % of the lands on earth but represent 50 % of the population. The FAO estimate that 56,6 millions of people work in the primary sector of fishing and aquaculture in 2014, of whom 84% live in Asia, 10% in Africa and 4% in Latin America and Caribbeans. We can observe a decline of those populations who live thanks to fish trade. The example of Newfoundland in Canada illustrates this. The fish industry of cod, because of decades of overfishing and mismanagement, has seen their fish stocks disappear in 1992, leaving around 40 000 persons unemployed as well as a devastated ecosystem. To this day the stocks has not been renewed. The decrease of the catches means a decrease in fish productions, therefore there are economic and social consequences. Moreover, the rights of small fisher communities do not allow them to defend themselves against the unfair competition they face. A program set in 2014 as a result of the adoption of the Voluntary guidelines to ensure the sustainability of artisanal fishing in  the context of  food security and poverty eradication, aims to reinforce these communities.

Treaties and conventions concerning overfishing 

Here is a list of some international treaties that  can give you an idea of what has been done:                                                                                                                                                          -The 3 United Nations Law of the Sea’s Conventions (1956/1960/1982)                                                          - The world action program for the protection of the marine environment against terrestrial activity (1995)                                                                                                                                               -  The code of conduct for a responsible fishing by the FAO (1995)                                                                                                                                        -  The international action plan to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (2001)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     - The regional conventions of the sea (established in 1974 by the PNUE)                                                                                                              - The UN conference on sustainable developpement durable and its 2030 Agenda (September 2015)                                                                                                                                                           - The Ocean conference (June 2017 New York)                                                                                 - The regional fishing program in West Africa  by the Global Bank (WARFP) (2009-2016)                                                                                                                                                    -The Convention for the protection of the Atlantic North-East marine environment (OSPAR) (1992)

 Countries and organisations involved


WWF (World Wildlife Fund) is one of the biggest NGOs in the world. It was founded in 1961. Its engagement against overfishing is expressed by a support to eco-responsible fishery, a promotion of the less devastating fishing techniques which reduce bycatch, and a collaboration with multiples actors (governments, private partner…).


Greenpeace is an NGO created in 1971, known for its shocking campaigns. It provides many resources to help ending overfishing, like a fish guide destined to consumers, a pirate vessels list and a guide to fight them.

Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd is an NGO created by Paul Watson in 1977 to fight for the protection of marine ecosystems. It possesses many vessels which act directly in the seas to protect its resources. It organises several campaigns, like the current operation to protect the mediterranean red tuna from extinction. The NGO also possesses a branch named Sea Shepherd Legal which rely on laws, treaties and different policies to achieve its goal.

European Union (EU)

According the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council, the EU imports 80% of the consumed sea products. According to the FAO,  in 2014 and 2015, the European  Union was by far the biggest import market of fish before the USA and Japan. It produces every year 6,4 millions tonnes of fish. The European Union includes the Commons fisheries policy CFP) with a supporting fund (EMFF). IUU Watch is an organisation related to the EU which fighting IUU.

African Union (UA)

The african union commision (more precisely the African Bureau for Animal Resources)has integrated Directives on artisanal fishing in its global strategies. The dependence to fish as a source of protein is very important in several developing countries in Africa. West African stocks are particularly affected and it is largely due to foreign vessels ( particularly from China) and IUU fishing.


The USA belongs to the main fish producers and are the main world importer. The main convention dealing with national fisheries is the Magnuson-Steven law of 1976, which is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  USA has the largest marine protected area in the Pacific ocean. However less than 1% of its water are sanctuaries. Their actual fishing policy seems to focus on short-term commercial interests  rather than long-term sustainable development.


China is the main fish producer country and a big sea products exporter. It also produces more than 60 % of its aquacultural production. China is very affected by IUU fishing. Moreover it seems that it has given wrong figures to the FAO, by declaring less catches in non-national waters than they actually had. It also lowers the figures of its global declared catches. A study reporter in the Fish and Fisheries review states that the quantities declared were 12 times less important than those done. The fish or sharks is very frequent. Although the public opinion on shark fishing is starting to evolve, there are still too little actions taken.


Norway is the second biggest fish exporter. The EU and Norway work in collaboration to establish fishing quotas and attribute them to certain countries as national quotas. These are supposedly based on scientific recommendations from the  International Council for the Explorations of Seas (ICES) in Copenhagen. Fish is a very popular source of protein in Norway. The country has the world's most important fish stock and has set a strict reglementation on what is rejected in the seas.


Japan is the second biggest fish  importer after the USA, as well as a big fish producer. The consumption of fish is high, as the fishing of red tuna (an endangered specie). Japan represents 80% of this specie consumption and fishing in the Pacific, and accorded to the  fishery Agency, the country has exceeded the established quota. Dolphins and whales are also targeted species. Convenience flags are also a common phenomenon.


France is the fourth country concerning importation and is one of the three biggest european producers with Spain and United Kingdom. It has difficulty respecting it’s fishing quotas and has already been punished because of that.

United Kingdom

The United-Kingdom is one of EU’s great fishing powers. Because of Brexit the country may close its waters to european ships in order to get back to an exclusive control of it. The UK wants to break out of the 1964 fishing Convention and of CFP (Common Fisheries Policy). In consequence there will be repercussions on the european market.


Russia is one of the main fish-producing country. It does a lot of IUU fishing. It has a large EEZ.


Chile is part as well of the main fish producers. It represent a great place in the economy. De par sa côte d’environ 4000 km, les communautés de pêcheurs indépendants sont importantes. Malgré cela la pêche industrielle surplombe le marché du poisson, et il y trouve aussi beaucoup de pêche INN. Leurs eaux côtières sont parmi les plus riches en poissons du monde, bien qu’elles se soient drastiquement appauvries. La pêche y est aussi un loisir très prisé.


This country also belongs to the biggest fisher states in the world. The anchovy represents nearly 85% of its catches. As stated by the UN, this species is the most heavily exploited of the world history. Yet only 2% of these catches goes to the human consumptions, the rest being used to feed farmed animals. (In the world, a sixth of the wild fish catch goes to the feeding of other animals.)


Located on the West coast of Africa full of fish, this country is a target for foreign pirate ships or unfair agreements. Russia, for example, is accused of using illegally granted licenses. A large part of the illegal foreign boats in Senegal come from China. In response, the government cancels fishing authorizations for these countries and tries to organize themselves into local fishing communities.

 Possible solutions

Here is a list of potential solutions to help you write your clauses:

             - reduce the amount of fish caught through quotas

- establish more international regulations on the high sea                                                                             

- strengthen overfishing sanctions and controls 

             - ban convenience flags

             - put an end to fishing subventions or orient them toward smart fisheries 

             - instal preferential treatment to responsible fishermen  

             - reinforce and  expand MPA

             - develop responsible aquaculture

             - raise awareness in order to promote the purchase of labeled fish and the diminution of  seafood products consommation              

             -increase transparency to fishing methods

- develop marine sanctuaries           

-develop more selective fishing technologies and methods (for example by modifying fishing nets) so that the amount of bycatch is minimal

- add value to bycatches in order to reduce waste

- constraint eco-labels and qualification systems to comply with FAO’s directives for eco-labellings



Videos: UE Campaign to end overfishing (4 minutes)-   

Impact of overfishing on coastal communities (6 minutes)-                                                                           


Presentation of unsustainable fishing by WWF-      Presentation of overfishing by Greenpeace-                                                                                                                                                         Slow Fish NGO’s website-                                    Article on global overfishing by the UN -                                   Article on overfishing in Africa by the UN-                                                                                                                                                    Article on fisheries management in Africa-   ‘revolution’                                                                                                                      MPA categories -                                                                                                                                                                UE fisheries management-                               Article on UN’s position- (french) Agenda 2030 goal 14-                 Report on glogal overfishing (Europe oriented- french)-                                             MPA classification system-                                                                                                               Fishing and farming methods-

FAO 2016’s report: