Horse-eye jacks (Caranx latus) swim by an National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Ocean Service diver during a safety stop. (Original source: National Ocean Service Image Gallery)

Fish stocks and other living marine resources move freely across maritime boundaries.  As such, the United States cannot effectively manage them alone and must cooperate with other nations.  Countries must cooperate to conduct scientific study and set fisheries rules that will ensure that these resources are conserved and managed sustainably.  The United States has worked over many decades to establish a network of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), treaty-based multilateral bodies and other bilateral, regional, and global organizations that oversee the cooperative sustainable management of shared fish stocks and other living marine resources.  The United States is a member or observer of many of these organizations and agreements, and the Department of State works closely with other U.S. agencies, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), to represent U.S. interests.  In addition the Department of State and NOAA Fisheries also have a number of other bilateral and regional cooperation arrangements on fisheries with other countries, including bilateral cooperation on fisheries with Canada, Russia, Mexico, the European Union, Japan, China, and Norway.

Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs)

Through RFMOs, member countries coordinate scientific study of shared resources, establish management measures to be implemented by members, allocate fishing rights, and undertake cooperative fisheries monitoring and enforcement activities to ensure that members’ fleets are complying with their obligations.  U.S. leadership in RFMOs drives science-based conservation and management measures to regulate the global fishing industry, leveling the playing field and promoting economic growth and job-creation for U.S. fishers, processors, and distributors.

  • The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) each provide a forum for nations to cooperate to ensure the long-term sustainable management of tuna and tuna-like species.
  • The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) and the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) are charged with conservation of endangered Atlantic salmon, Pacific Salmon, and other anadromous stocks in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, respectively.
  • U.S. membership in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) ensures the restoration of the world’s largest untapped source of marine protein and aids in protecting future U.S. access to important marine resources in the Antarctic region. CCAMLR has implemented a pioneering ecosystem approach to managing valuable stocks of toothfish and has been a leader in developing innovative approaches to combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
  • The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) allows coastal nations, including the United States, and others who fish in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean to coordinate scientific study and promote the conservation and optimum use of the region’s fishery resources. The United States has led efforts within NAFO to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems and end destructive fishing practices, as well as adopt groundbreaking international conservation and management measures for threatened shark and ray stocks.
  • The North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC) ensures the long-term conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources in the North Pacific Ocean. The United States works to maintain catch limits and implement other measures to keep fish stocks at sustainable levels.
  • The South Pacific Regional Fishery Management Organization (SPRFMO) manages non-tuna fishery resources in the South Pacific, an area representing about one-fourth of the world’s high seas. SPRFMO is dedicated to the long-term conservation and sustainable use of species in this region, which include jack mackerel, squid, and deep-sea species.

Pacific Salmon Jumping Up the Brooks Falls at Katmai National Park, Alaska (Original source: Shutterstock)

Bilateral and Regional Agreements

South Pacific Tuna Treaty

The Multilateral Treaty on Fisheries between the United States and 16 Pacific Island parties, commonly referred to as the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, has been in force since 1988.  It establishes the terms and conditions of fishing access for U.S. tuna purse seine vessels to waters under the jurisdiction of Pacific Island countries that are members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, and provides a platform for fisheries cooperation between the United States and the Pacific Island region.  In 2016, the parties adopted amendments to the Treaty and extended the terms of fishing access under the agreement for an additional six years.

Arctic Fisheries

The five States with exclusive economic zones (EEZs) surrounding the high-seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean signed the non-legally binding Declaration Concerning the Prevention of Unregulated High Seas Fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean in July 2015.  In this declaration the United States, together with Canada, Norway, Russia, and Denmark in respect of Greenland agreed to not authorize their own fishing fleets to engage in commercial fishing in that area until there is an effective international mechanism in place to manage Arctic fishing, and established a joint program of scientific research aimed at improving our understanding of the ecosystems of this area.  Building on the Declaration’s acknowledgement of other nations’ interests in Arctic fisheries, the 2015 Declaration Signatories, together with China, the European Union, Iceland, Japan, and the Republic of Korea successfully negotiated and signed the legally-binding Agreement to Prevent Unregulated Commercial Fishing on the High Seas of the Central Arctic Ocean on October 3, 2018 in Ilulissat, Greenland.  The signatories are now working toward depositing their instruments of ratification to bring this Agreement into force.  The United States acceded to the agreement in August 2019.  The Agreement will enter into force once all Signatories have ratified the Agreement.

U.S.-Canada Bilateral Management

The United States shares maritime boundaries with Canada in three oceans – the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arctic – and the Great Lakes.  Within these ecologically and economically important regions, we share many vital fisheries resources and complex conservation and management challenges.  The Department of State has led negotiations with Canada to establish a number of formal agreements and treaties that facilitate cooperation on these shared resources, including three bilateral commissions – the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission (GLFC), the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), and the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC). We have also established agreements to ensure fair access to and sustainable management of other important stocks including Pacific Albacore Tuna and Pacific Hake/Whiting.

U.S. Department of State

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