Helping the LDCs negotiate the high seas


IIED helped Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to participate effectively in talks about a new international treaty on the high seas

In 2008 the captain of this deep-sea fishing trawler was convicted of illegal fishing and providing misleading information about catches (Photo: Bernard Spragg.NZ, Creative Commons via Flickr)

More than 50% of the earth's surface is not governed by any international treaty. The high seas are arguably one of the last unprotected areas on the planet. They include some of the most biologically important and most fragile ecosystems in the world. 

The threats to these regions, also known as marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, are being driven by technological advances such as deep-sea fishing, seabed mining and the exploitation of marine genetic resources by pharmaceutical companies.

In 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution stressing "the need for the comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction." 

Member states unanimously agreed to launch a series of preparatory negotiations to develop an international treaty to govern these areas. These meetings convened in 2016 and 2017. The meetings looked four different topics:

  1. Marine genetic resources, including issues of access and benefit sharing
  2. Area-based management tools, including marine protected areas
  3. Environmental impact assessments
  4. Capacity building and transfer of marine technology.

What IIED has done

IIED worked with the LDCs to increase their engagement and effectiveness in the talks. The preliminary negotiations and the ensuing treaty are of vital importance to the LDCs: the high seas are used by migratory fish as breeding grounds, and the exploitation or destruction of these ecosystems could have a major impact. The technology which enables the exploitation of the high seas is the preserve of advanced nations: vessels from ten rich nations, including Japan, Korea, and Spain, take 71 percent of fishing catches from the high seas. 

IIED provided legal, technical and strategic advice to equip LDC negotiators with the information they need to take forward positions and support strong marine conservation measures.

We analysed and helped to draft position papers informing the LDC’s strategy and worked to ensure active participation by LDC delegates in the preparatory discussions, including preparing submissions or interventions by these countries in support of the need include strong conservation measures.

As part of this work we convened two workshops for negotiators from the LDCs at which participants were able to develop and draft position papers and statements in support of high seas conservation and sustainable use. 

We are also producing policy briefings for LDC negotiators on topics such as the importance of high seas marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, capacity building and technology transfer, as well as benefit sharing.

IIED convened a panel of experts to design, in collaboration with Pew Research, a scenario analysis to evaluate high seas marine protected area governance options. This analysed the cost effectiveness and ecological, social and economic implications of different management regimes for high seas conservation. 

IIED's Essam Yassin Mohammed explains why we need fair and inclusive governance of the high seas

In September 2018 the first session of the Intergovernmental Conference on BBNJ was held in New York and IIED was there to support LDC negotiators to have their priorities considered in negotiations.

While in New York, IIED's Essam Yassin Mohammed was interviewed by Radio France Internationale:

If your browser doesn't support HTML5 audio, here is a link to the audio instead.

Additional resources

Seize the moment: towards fairer capacity building and marine technology transfer, Elisa Morgera, Mara Ntona (2018), IIED Briefing Paper 

Moving towards an inclusive blue economy, related project

Moving a step closer to protecting the high seas, blog by Essam Yassin Mohammed, August 2017

Fish Night 4: Governing our high seas. Why now?, meeting report 2016

Towards an inclusive blue economy, blog by Andrew Norton, June 2016

Governing the ungoverned 50% of the planet, blog by Essam Yassin Mohammed, April 2016


Pew Research