Oceans are of enormous value to the world economy. They provide us with food, water, raw materials and
energy. The combined value of ocean resources and uses is estimated to be about $7 trillion per year. Fish and
minerals, including oil and gas, are among the most important marine resources, while the major uses of the
oceans include the recreation industry, transportation, communications and waste disposal.
Every year, approximately 90 million tons of fish are captured globally, supplying by far the largest source of
wild protein for human consumption. The fishing industry is also a major source of employment, providing
work to some 36 million people in the primary capture fisheries and aquaculture production alone.
While ocean fisheries have increased nearly five-fold in the past 50 years, to about 90 million tons in the
late 1990s, a relative plateau has now been reached. This stagnation is due to the fact that most of the world’s
fishing areas have already reached their maximum potential for fish captures. About 50 per cent of stocks are
already being fished at sustainable levels, and 25 per cent are being over-fished, making it very unlikely that
there will be substantial increases in fish captures. The increase that has been observed in global marine fish
production in recent years, about 20 million tons a year, is mainly due to marine aquaculture. In fact, the Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that by 2030 aquaculture will dominate fish supplies and that less
than half of the fish consumed will originate in capture fisheries.
Several factors have contributed to this serious and worrisome dwindling of fish stocks, including an enormous growth in the size and capacity of the world’s fishing fleets; the prevalence of illegal, unregulated and
unreported fishing, both on the high seas and within exclusive economic zones; poor selectivity of fishing gear,
which often leads to large bycatches and discharges; harmful fishing practices that can lead to the destruction of
critical habitats; and various environmental factors such as pollution from land-based sources.
Responsibility for ensuring the long-term sustainability of fish stocks within the 200 nautical mile economic
zones, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, rests with coastal States, under
whose jurisdiction about 90 per cent of the world’s fisheries fall. Over the past 20 years, the Convention, along
with a number of complementary international instruments and voluntary agreements, has been an effective
vehicle for focusing attention on the issue of responsible fisheries. But there is still considerable room for
improvement, as many States lack adequate enforcement mechanisms to ensure effective compliance with their
conservation and management measures.
To reverse the global decline in fish stocks, a concerted international effort to improve the overall governance of marine fisheries is required. States must adopt new and more effective fishing policies and ensure the
full implementation of existing regulations. The following actions are needed:
♦ establish reliable data on the state of fish stocks and fishing fleets, to allow better monitoring and assessment of fisheries management;
♦ adjust the size of fishing fleets to bring them in line with sustainable use of fish stocks;
♦ reduce bycatches and discarding by enforcing the use of appropriate fishing gear;
♦ protect fish habitats and incorporate ecosystem considerations into fisheries management; and
♦ establish a credible system of monitoring, controlling, surveillance and enforcement to encourage
compliance with adopted conservation and management measures, and to deter unsustainable fishing
In addition, policy makers should adopt a precautionary approach and be guided by sustainability indicators when
assessing the size of allowable fish catches.
While the Convention on the Law of the Sea has been the centrepiece in focusing attention on the need for responsible fishing practices, other international legal instruments aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of fishery
resources also play an important role. These include the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, the 1993 FAO
Compliance Agreement and the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its related international plans
of action. The plans of action address the management of fishing capacity; the prevention of illegal, unregulated and
unreported fishing; the reduction of incidental catch of seabirds in longline fisheries; and the conservation and
management of shark populations.
Oil, Gas and other Minerals
Marine minerals have been estimated to generate nearly $1 trillion every year. These valuable minerals, which include
offshore oil and gas, gold, tin, diamonds, sand and gravel, can be found both within and beyond the limits of national
Resources within National Jurisdictions
Within national jurisdictions, the offshore oil and gas industry has been growing at a remarkable pace. Worldwide, offshore oil production grew from about 13,500 million barrels per day in the early 1980s to about 18,600 million in the
mid-1990s, an increase of 37 per cent. In the same period, offshore gas production increased by 27 per cent, from
about 28,300 to 35,900 million cubic feet per day. Today, offshore oil production accounts for about 30 per cent of total
world oil production, while the share of the offshore gas industry in world gas production is about half.
In recent years, due to increasing world demand for oil and gas, offshore exploration and development have shifted
to new frontiers where little research and discovery had taken place in the past. As a result, four areas — the Gulf of
Mexico, the North Sea, and offshore West Africa and South-East Asia — have become the focus of exploration and
Beyond the traditional sources of oil and gas, the oceans hold the promise of new and potentially enormous sources
of energy. The recovery of frozen compounds of methane gas (i.e. methane hydrates), of which huge deposits can be
found at 600 to 1,500 feet below the ocean floor on continental margins throughout the world, is a particularly promising area of research. These ocean-floor deposits could be of tremendous value as scientists estimate that they contain
twice the amount of organic carbon as all recoverable and non-recoverable oil, gas and coal deposits on Earth combined.
Resources beyond National Jurisdictions
The Convention on the Law of the Sea designated marine minerals on the seabed beyond national jurisdiction as the
common heritage of mankind, to be explored and exploited for the benefit of humanity as a whole. These mineral
resources are administered by the International Seabed Authority, an international organization established on the basis
of the Convention, which allows both public and private enterprises, as well as collective mining consortiums, to apply
for permission to mine the seabed.
Deep seabed mining, while holding enormous promise, is extremely challenging. It has been compared to standing
atop a New York City skyscraper on a windy day, trying to suck up marbles off the street below with a vacuum cleaner
attached to a long hose. Mining takes place at a depth of more than 15,000 feet of open ocean, thousands of miles from
land, making it a risky and extremely expensive endeavour. Keeping a steady ship position, since a vessel cannot
anchor five kilometres above the sea floor, and making sure that the pipe used for extracting the minerals does not snap
or that the recovery vehicle is not lost or permanently stuck on the ocean floor, are among the many difficulties
involved in developing the technology for commercial exploitation.
Today, twenty years after the adoption of the Convention, exploration contracts for the mining of polymetallic
nodules — which contain a number of important metals such as nickel, copper and cobalt — in the international seabed
area have been issued to seven pioneer investors. Consideration is being given to allowing the exploration and exploitation of two other types of minerals — polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich crusts. In this context, the International
Seabed Authority is taking into consideration the environmental concerns arising from the growing interest in developing
marine mineral resources in the international seabed area.