Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP)

Main water areas

FAO major fishing areas for statistical purposes are arbitrary areas, the boundaries of which were determined in consultation with international fishery agencies on various considerations, including

  1. the boundary of natural regions and the natural divisions of oceans and seas
  2. the boundaries of adjacent statistical fisheries bodies already established in inter-governmental conventions and treaties
  3. existing national practices
  4. national boundaries
  5. the longitude and latitude grid system
  6. the distribution of the aquatic fauna
  7. the distribution of the resources and the environmental conditions within an area.

The rationale of the FAO major fishing areas has been that the areas should, as far as possible, coincide with the areas of competence of other fishery commissions when existing (refer below). This system facilitates comparison of data, and improves the possibilities of cooperation in statistical matters in general. For statistical purposes, the major fishing areas are referred to as statistical areas and each area may be divided into smaller areas as needed. The internationally accepted standard practice is to divide a statistical area into one of more statistical subareas, then divide a subarea into one of more statistical divisions and finally divide a division into one or more statistical sub-divisions. A total of 27 major fishing areas have been internationally established to date. These comprise:

  • 8 major inland fishing areas covering the inland waters of the continents,
  • 19 major marine fishing areas covering the waters of the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans with their adjacent seas.

Marine and inland waters

It is difficult to derive adequate definitions for the terms marine waters and inland waters which are frequently equated with saltwater areas and freshwater areas, respectively. However there are heavily saline or brackish waters (lakes, lagoons, estuaries, etc.) that are classified nationally as parts of the inland waters. Certain maritime regions have very low salinities and might include mainly freshwater estuaries and other areas influenced by river outflows, as well as various brackish water areas. Further, the salinity of such areas may be subject to large diurnal and seasonal variations.

The CWP has therefore decided that, for the completion of STATLANT, STATPAC and FISHSTAT questionnaires, it is for the national authorities to decide on the boundaries between marine and inland areas appropriate to the national situation. Attention was again focused on the problem at the Fourteenth Session of the CWP (1990, Paris, France) in connection with the need to distinguish between catches and culture in inland waters.

The following terms are provided for the purpose of collecting statistical data.

  • Marine waters is intended to refer to oceans and seas including adjacent saltwater areas.
  • Inland waters may be used to refer to lakes, rivers, brooks, streams, ponds, inland canals, dams, and other land-locked (usually freshwater) waters (such as the Caspian Sea, Aral Sea, etc.).
Inland waters
Eaux continentales
Aguas continentales
Internal waters
Eaux intérieures
Aguas interiores

Major fishing areas

The major fishing areas, inland and marine, are listed below by two-digit codes and their names. To access maps and description of boundaries of each fishing area click on the relevant item in the list below or in the map showing the 19 major marine fishing areas.

The boundaries of FAO major fishing areas could be modified and adjusted according to new requirements, but it is inadvisable to introduce too frequent amendments to the already established areas. Revisions to boundaries should only be introduced after consultation with all the national fishery authorities and fishery agencies concerned with the areas under revision. The Twenty-second session of the CWP (2007, Rome, Italy) reconfirmed that there are three major conditions to be met before implementing a change in boundaries between major fishing areas: a) no country should object the proposed change; b) no RFB should object the change and effort should be made to reconcile boundaries between RFBs jurisdictions and those of the FAO major fishing areas; and c) countries involved in the proposed change should be able to provide to FAO revision of historical capture statistics according to any new boundary.

Unless there are other over-riding reasons, boundaries lines should be drawn along 5° lines of longitude and latitude.


01 Africa - Inland waters
02 America, North - Inland waters
03 America, South - Inland waters
04 Asia - Inland waters
05 Europe - Inland waters
06 Oceania - Inland waters
07 Former USSR area - Inland waters *
08 Antarctica - Inland waters
The fishing area 07 ("Former USSR area - Inland waters") referred to the area that was formerly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Starting with the data for 1988, information for each new independent Republic is shown separately. The new independent Republics are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan (statistics assigned to the fishing area "Asia - Inland waters") and Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Ukraine (statistics assigned to the fishing area "Europe - Inland waters").


18 Arctic Sea
21 Atlantic, Northwest
27 Atlantic, Northeast
31 Atlantic, Western Central
34 Atlantic, Eastern Central
37 Mediterranean and Black Sea
41 Atlantic, Southwest
47 Atlantic, Southeast
48 Atlantic, Antarctic
51 Indian Ocean, Western
57 Indian Ocean, Eastern
58 Indian Ocean, Antarctic and Southern
61 Pacific, Northwest
67 Pacific, Northeast
71 Pacific, Western Central
77 Pacific, Eastern Central
81 Pacific, Southwest
87 Pacific, Southeast
88 Pacific, Antarctic


Browse FAO Fishing Areas Fact Sheets by map

Areal grid system

Recognizing the need for areal breakdown, the CWP has suggested that a graticule-based system could be used throughout the globe and has recommended that the quadrangles (also called rectangles or squares) be coded and identified according to the following standard rules:

  1. the identification of the latitude should be given before that of the longitude;
  2. each quadrangle (rectangle) should be identified by its graticule-based boundaries as defined by the latitude and the longitude meeting in its corner nearest to the point where the Equator is crossed by the Greenwich Meridian;
  3. the foregoing data on latitude and longitude should be preceded by
    1. the first digit identifying the size of the quadrangle
      and then by
    2. a second digit indicating the quadrant of the globe in which the quadrangle is located.

The following Tables show how this graticule coding should be achieved.

Coding of graticule system for identifying statistical quadrangles

Format of the code identifying statistical quadrangles


A. Code to indicate size of quadrangle


B. Code to indicate quadrant
Quadrant of Globe


Certain agencies have found the need for an areal breakdown other than that offered by the coding system; for example, for a quadrangle of 30′ latitude by 1 degree longitude or for a finer breakdown than the smallest quadrangle identified by this coding system, namely 10′ x 10′. The CWP has therefore recommended the following standard coding procedures for areas smaller than 1 degree quadrangles:

    1. where the 1 degree quadrangle is divided into two halves, each 30′latitude by 60′longitude, the one nearest to the Equator is coded number 1, and the other number 2
    2. where the 1 degree quadrangle is divided into four quarters, each 30′ x 30′, the numbering depends on the quadrant in order to follow the latitude/longitude hierarchical structure, e.g.:
    1. the code "0" will be used to indicate that it is not possible to show the data at a breakdown below the 1 degree quadrangle.

The structure of a code for identifying the size and location of a unit quadrangle of less than 1° by 1° could be presented as follows:

Size code unit quadrangle of less than 1° X 1°
Quadrant code
Latitude identifying 1x1 quadrangle
Longitude identifying 1x1 quadrangle
Position of the unit quadrangle of less than 1° X 1° within the 1 X 1 degree quadrangle

Water jurisdiction areas

Internal waters and archipelagic waters

Article 8 of the Informal Composite Negotiating Text / Revision 2 (A/CONF.62/WP.10/Rev. 2, 11 April 1980) of the United Nations Third Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) assigns a specific meaning to the term internal waters as part of the sea. This UNCLOS article considers internal waters as those waters of the sea on the landward side of the baseline used by the national authorities of the coastal country to measure further seawards the width of the territorial sea and any adjacent marine waters, whether salt, brackish, or fresh in character. Such internal waters will be found, for instance, when the baselines are drawn across the mouths of bays or along a curtain of islands lying close off the coast. Japan's well-known Inland Sea is not part of that country's inland waters but is one of the internal waters of Japan and forms part of the truly marine fishing areas of that country. UNCLOS also defines a variant of internal waters applicable to archipelagos, namely archipelagic waters

Territorial sea

The term territorial sea is defined under UNCLOS as a band of 12 nautical miles in width seaward calculated from the baseline. Internal waters/archipelagic waters are not part of a territorial sea.

Contiguous zone

The term contiguous zone is defined under UNCLOS as a band extending from the outer limit of the territorial seas up to a limit of 24 nautical miles from the baseline.

Exclusive economic zone

The term Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is defined under UNCLOS as an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea and up to a limit of 200 nautical miles seaward. EEZs give nations sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting marine resources below the level of the sea, including fishing activities.

International waters, high seas and areas beyond national jurisdiction

Initially, with the Convention of High Seas (1958), international waters, also named high seas, were defined as the water bodies outside national jurisdiction that are not included in the territorial seas or internal waters, where “no State may validly purport to subject any part of them to its sovereignty”. With UNCLOS (1982) and the introduction of EEZs, the international waters/high seas were re-defined as the water column beyond the EEZs. These international waters/high seas are also referred nowadays as Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).


United Nations. 1958. Convention on the High Seas. United Nations Treaty Series, Vol. 450: 82-167. New York, UN. (also available at

United Nations. 1982. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs. New York, UN. (also available at

Resources for main water areas

FAO. FAO Major Fishing Areas. [Cited 1 November 2020].