The HSA have a mission to tackle plastic in the marine environment to preserve fish stocks




We take fish for granted, but our untidy habits are poisoning the high seas leading to an inevitable crash - when fish is no longer deemed safe to eat and we have overfished the oceans to extinction. To ensure fish stocks we need to eliminate plastic waste from the food chain before it's too late and curb pirate fishing.


The High Seas Alliance is a partnership of organizations and groups aimed at building a strong common voice and constituency for the conservation of the high seas. The Alliance is currently made up of 27 NGOs plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The High Seas Alliance is sponsored by The Ocean Foundation.

The objective of the Alliance is to facilitate international cooperation to establish high seas protected areas and to strengthen high seas governance. Members of the HSA share and facilitate access to information in order to promote transparency and encourage an informed public discourse related to the mission and goals of the Alliance.

High Seas Alliance members commit to work together to achieve these goals either as members of a collaborative effort through the Alliance, or as individual organizations supported by or affiliated with the Alliance.



At the Rio +20 Summit in June 2012, governments committed to "address, on an urgent basis, the issue of the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction including by taking a decision on the development of an international instrument under UNCLOS" (para. 162, The Future We Want). The High Seas Alliance (HSA), on behalf of its 27 member organizations, welcomes this high level expression of political will. We stress the importance of beginning the process to negotiate a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement under UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

This will apply to the high seas, which is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) - amounting to 64% of the ocean - and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country. These areas make up nearly 50% of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet. Only an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement would address the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas – and therefore the entire global ocean – from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.




HRH the Prince of Wales speaking at a Global Ocean Commission event in Washington DC in March of 2015. The future King of England has consistently kept a weather eye open to help safeguard the marine environment.




The high seas are open to all states, whether coastal or land-locked. Freedom of the high seas, and particularly the governance of high seas fishing, is exercised under the conditions laid down in 'Part VII: High Seas' of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which entered into force in 1994, and in the 1995 Agreement on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks And Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (known as the UN Fish Stocks Agreement), which entered into force in 2001.

The FAO Code of Conduct on Responsible Fisheries integrates the requirements of UNCLOS and the Fish Stocks Agreement, as well as bridging them with the wider requirements of the UN Convention on Environment and Development (UNCED).

High seas resources are currently primarily managed by regional fishery organizations (RFOs) charged with organizing international cooperation around a number of tasks, including: the collection of fishery statistics; the assessment of the state of resources; the imparting of scientific advice; management decisions; and monitoring. The implementation and enforcement of measures is, however, usually the preroga-tive of the Flag State, and the relative effectiveness of RFOs varies from region to region, and task to task.




Marine life needs to be protected against ocean pollution. Ocean pollution includes plastic, nets and oil spills. Technology with the potential to alleviate such issues should be accelerated as a high priority.




The existing framework of governance for the high seas is not fit for purpose in the 21st century. Since UNCLOS was agreed more than thirty years ago, activities such as deep sea bottom trawling and offshore oil and gas exploration have extended further and deeper, and today we are on the brink of deep sea mineral mining becoming a viable global industry. Meanwhile, under UNCLOS, there is no global framework of rules for protecting the biodiversity of the high seas — indeed, UNCLOS does not even contain the word "biodiversity". The Law of the Sea urgently needs to extend further and deeper, to catch up with the pace of human technology and exploitation before the high seas fall victim to even greater levels of irrevocable plunder.

Just 0.79% of the high seas are marine protected areas (MPAs), and this paltry figure would be far smaller without the significant progress in the Southern Ocean and North-East Atlantic of the past few years, in two cases where a legal framework for such MPAs exists. Even including coastal zones and areas within EEZs, only 1.6% of the global ocean is protected, compared with 12.7% of the world's land area. There is a very long way to go if governments are to meet Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which calls for at least 10% of the ocean to be covered by a network of MPAs by 2020. Scientists have advised going even further, recommending that between 20-40% of the ocean be given MPA status in order to conserve viable populations of key species, secure ecosystem functions and allow sufficient connectivity between individual protected areas.

The international community has recognized that the lack of protection of high seas biodiversity is a huge and urgent problem; now it is time to get to work to address it. Agreeing to an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement is a vital step towards ensuring that the life-giving wonders and precious biodiversity of the high seas are conserved now and for the future.


More information on ocean governance can be found on the website of the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea.

“We hope that all states will act urgently on this global issue by developing a strengthened oceans governance regime under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, including for the establishment of marine protected areas.” (Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia, statement at Rio+20)


“The EU therefore supports a new implementing agreement of UNCLOS which would address both the conservation and the sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. It should address the issues of marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments.” (Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, statement at the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, Paris, 11 April 2013)












UNEA is the highest-level UN body ever convened on the environment. It enjoys universal membership of all 193 UN member states as well as other stakeholder groups. With this wide reach into the legislative, financial and development arenas, the new body presents a ground-breaking platform for leadership on global environmental policy. The UNEA boasts over 1200 participants, 170 national delegations, and 80 ministers. With all this muscle, can we expect to see some positive action to clean up ocean plastic from local and international waters?


For more information, visit the website of the UNEP Regional Seas Programme:




Global Ocean Commissioners at the 2013 launch. From left: David Miliband, Obiageli 'Oby' Ezekwesili, Jose Maria Figueres.



The Commission will publish its final recommendations in early 2014, shortly before the United Nations General Assembly begins discussions on protecting high seas biodiversity. The Commission’s report will consist of proposals improve the system of governance, thus ending high seas overfishing, stopping the loss of habitat and biodiversity, and improving monitoring and compliance.







Plastics are a major source of pollution on the high seas and a health threat to humans and the environment. This reflects poor handling and waste management practices on land and requires a combination of political and regulatory action supported by an increase in consumer awareness.

It is important to intensify efforts to address the variety of sources of marine pollution (persistent organic pollutants, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, nitrates, radioactive substances, marine debris, etc.). In particular, the Commission calls for coordinated action by governments, the private sector and civil society to eliminate plastics entering the global ocean including by:

1. Minimising single-use plastics by direct government intervention and consumer incentives.
2. Creating incentives to promote recycling and extend producer responsibility.
3. Establishing time-bound, quantitative reduction targets.
4. Achieving improved waste management.
5. Promoting consumer awareness.
6. Replicating local initiatives to restrict or ban certain unsustainable uses of plastic materials and clean-ups.
7. Addressing lost and discarded fishing gear, in particular FADs, to avoid abandonment.
8. Encouraging XPRIZE-like innovation around substitution, waste avoidance, recycling and clean-ups.
9. Exploring taxation and other levies to establish a Global Marine Responsibility Fund.


Given its mandate and its focus on the high seas, the Commission debated long and hard as to whether we should seek to address the problem of marine pollution at all, bearing in mind that it is estimated that 80% of all inputs of marine pollution come from land-based activities.

Nevertheless, we could not ignore that plastics are by far the most abundant and problematic type of marine debris in terms of the number of items. The amount of plastic in the ocean has risen sharply since the 1950s, with a tenfold increase every decade in some places. Scientists expect this trend to continue, given the increasing use of disposable plastic packaging and containers. In addition, the projected massive growth in plastic production is enhanced by the falling cost of plastic resin, which has become cheaper with the expansion of natural gas production.



Given that the vast majority of plastic entering the ocean is from land-based sources, which reflects poor handling and waste management practices on land, tackling these problems requires a combination of political and regulatory action supported by an increase in consumer awareness. The Commission is therefore calling for more coordinated action by governments, the private sector and civil society to stop plastics from entering the global ocean in the first place. Plastics pollution does not respect borders or boundaries, it affects everyone and needs to be addressed collectively.



Plastic waste in the oceans is killing marine life


Tons of plastic floating in our oceans is a serious problem we face on this globe, considered to be one of most serious threats to our oceans. 90% of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface is in the form of plastic materials, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. Plastic does not biodegrade, it photo-degrades with sunlight, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. These plastic pieces are eaten by marine life and eventually works it way up the food chain - as per the diagram below.



Plastic is also swept away by ocean currents, landing in swirling vortexes called ocean gyres. The North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest ocean garbage site in the world. The floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas. These floating garbage sites are impossible to fully clean up. Over 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds die each year from ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic. Plastic poses a significant threat to the health of sea creatures, both big and small. It takes 500-1000 years for plastic to degrade, threatening both human and ocean health.





The Commissioner for Maritime affairs and Fisheries is a member of the European Commission. The portfolio includes policies such as the Common Fisheries Policy, which is largely a competence of the European Union rather than the members. The Union has 66,000 km of coastline and the largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world, covering 25 million km². They also participate in meetings of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council (Agrifish) configuration of the Council of the European Union. Their governance is thus a model for the world and should send a signal to other fishing nations as to important issues and remedies. Actions speak louder than words.


Global Ocean Commission co-Chairs David Miliband, Trevor Manuel and José María Figueres wrote to new European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Karmenu Vella, to express support for the EU’s pioneering regulation on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to seek a meeting for further exploration and discussion.


IUU fishing has a devastating impact on marine environments, livelihoods, food security and illegal fishers. The Global Ocean Commission believes that the EU IUU Regulation has tremendous potential for stopping the trade of illegal fish products into the world’s largest seafood market – the EU – and, as a result, contributing to discouraging and eliminating IUU fishing practices around the globe.





The Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (also known in short as DG MARE) is the Commission department responsible for the implementation of the Common Fisheries policy and of the Integrated Maritime Policy. DG MARE reports to Karmenu Vella (left), Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Lowri Evans has been Director-General in DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries since 2010. Prior to that she has worked in several policy areas in the European Commission notably Competition and Employment.



Stopping illegal products from entering the EU allows for the creation of a level playing field for EU fishermen who operate in a legal, transparent and fair way and provides a safety net for protecting the supply chains of European processors and retailers.


The Regulation is also a showcase at the international level, demonstrating the influence one key market state can have as it encourages on-the-ground improvements in fisheries governance, monitoring control and surveillance in flag, coastal and port states, and eradicating some of the key IUU fishing hotspots globally.


As a direct outcome of the EU’s IUU yellow-carding (warning) and red-carding (trade restrictions) process, at least four countries – namely Fiji, Panama, Togo, and Vanuatu – have entirely reformed their fisheries policies and laws, introduced more sophisticated and effective vessel monitoring systems, and brought in sanctions for their nationals and vessels involved in IUU fishing. A large number of pre-identified countries have stressed the importance of cooperation and collaboration with the EU in this process, acknowledging its significant role in the global effort to deter IUU fishing.










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