Common Oceans - A partnership for sustainability in the ABNJ

Common Oceans side event at the Preparatory Committee on BBNJ in New York - Exploring a new instrument through the lens of Regional Fisheries Bodies

3 August 2017

The fourth - and final - session of the Preparatory Committee on the development of an international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ PrepCom 4), took place at UN Headquarters in New York on the 10-21 of July 2017.

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Michael Brakke (U.S.), Kate Neilson (NZ), Tim Adams (FFA), Merete Tandstad
(FAO), Fred Kingston (NAFO) & Alejandro Anganuzzi (FAO)
© Bryce Seockhwan Hwang

At the beginning of the second week, the Common Oceans ABNJ Program got the opportunity host two side events and establish forums for discussions on capacity development, as well as the role of RFMOs in the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). The first side event, organized the Common Oceans ABNJ Capacity Project, on capacity development, took place on the 17 of July. Focusing on experiences, and lessons learned in existing efforts at capacity develop­ment in ABNJ, participants explored ways and options of moving forward on this central issue in the BBNJ process. Read more about it here.

The theme for the second side event was Exploring a new instrument through the lens of Regional Fisheries Bodies (including Regional Fisheries Management Organizations), and it was organized by the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project, presenting examples from Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) on recent advances on implementation of ecosystem concerns, and from the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) on cooperation with environmental initiatives. The panel was completed by representatives from the Pacific Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA), a Regional Fishery Body, as well as participants representing the United States and New Zealand.

The arrangements for fisheries management in the ABNJ is an issue that has been frequently discussed during the different sessions of the Preparatory Committee. Following UNCLOS guidelines, shared fisheries, including those that extend to the ABNJ, are managed through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) that have different structures and functions, depending on the type of fishery they are mandated to manage. In recent years, most RFMOs have evolved as a result of changes brought about to address growing concerns about sustainability, and strengthening the actions taken by the RFMO member States to mitigate impacts of their fishing operations on associated species, habitats and vulnerable ecosystems. RFMO member States have the responsibility to utilize fisheries resources in a sustainable way and, progressively, to ensure that the fishing operations under their purview do not have any significant adverse impact on ecosystem structure and functions.

Building on this, participants were invited to discuss the role and future contributions of the RFMOs to the BBNJ Process. There was ample agreement that there is a need for better understanding and coordination of the current operations of the RFMOs and the conservation initiatives in each key ABNJ region. The examples presented proved that there are ways of having consistent policies that would benefit the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable utilization goals. Alejandro Anganuzzi, Coordinator of the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project and the facilitator, summarized the outcomes of the successful event:

"This is a first step into a much needed discussion about what is the current status of the RFMO management actions, and how they can be integrated into the mechanisms for ensuring preservation of biodiversity in the ABNJ. Only by a continuing dialogue, and an active exploration of novel approaches to cooperation we will reach a satisfactory balance between the conservation of ecosystems and the sustainable use of the ABNJ resources.

The Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project, funded by the Global Environment Facility with the FAO as the implementing agency, harnesses the efforts of a large and diverse array of partners, including the five tuna tuna-RFMOs, governments, inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and private sector. The Project aims to achieve responsible, efficient and sustainable tuna production and biodiversity conservation in the ABNJ.

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© Bryce Seockhwan Hwang

For additional information, contact:


Global Environment Facility (GEF)