Common oceans – our shared responsibility

Improving fisheries management and safeguarding biodiversity across the areas beyond national jurisdiction

Our common oceans are home to a variety of complex ecosystems and animals, and it is our joint responsibility to protect them. © Marine Photobank/Jeff Litton


Oceans cover 70 percent of our planet. But did you know that 40 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by what is known as our common oceans?

Common oceans are marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) that are not governed by any single nation. Instead, all nations are jointly responsible for sustainably managing those areas.

ABNJ, also known as common oceans, include the high seas and the seabeds beyond the extended continental shelf of coastal states -- areas which are difficult to monitor, challenging to manage and easy to over-exploit.

Unfortunately, our common oceans face a variety of threats including illegal fishing, pollution and unsustainable fishing and shipping practices. These activities are damaging diverse and valuable ecosystems that provide important ecosystem services, essential food and vital livelihoods for people around the world.

Left: At least 50 different deep-sea species are caught in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction. ©FAO Right: Improving fisheries management will contribute to ensuring long-term sustainability and biodiversity conservation in our common oceans. ©ISSF/Fabien Forget

Millions of families in both developed and developing countries depend on income generated from fishing and its associated activities. 150 000 tonnes of deep-sea species of fish are caught every year, and up to 50 different deep-sea species are caught in common oceans alone.

Common oceans hold 95 percent of all the water in our oceans. They are home to some of the world’s most complex ecosystems, which help to control the climate and provide us with food. Even if you hadn’t heard of common oceans before today, you have already benefited from them in one way or another.

Building on the need to achieve sustainable management of fisheries and biodiversity conservation in our common oceans, FAO developed the Common Oceans ABNJ Program with support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The Program, comprised of four individual projects, is an innovative, unique and comprehensive initiative working in close collaboration with two other GEF agencies, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank. Focusing on tuna and deep-sea fisheries, the four projects bring together some 65 partners including governments, regional management bodies, civil society, the private sector, academia and industry to work towards ensuring the  sustainable use and conservation of ABNJ biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Although there is progress in some areas, we need to continue working together to support the implementation of sustainable fisheries management, reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, minimize ecosystem impacts from destructive fishing practices and improve existing policies and frameworks.  Together, we can help preserve vulnerable marine ecosystems and enhance conservation.

We are still learning about our oceans and all they have to offer. The Common Oceans ABNJ Program is working to protect these sensitive ecosystems for future generations. ©National Ocean Service Image Gallery

Through research, knowledge-sharing, capacity building and innovative solutions, we can ensure the long-term sustainability of these sensitive ecosystems.

If we strengthen global capacity to effectively manage ABNJ, we can explore and protect the untapped potential of our common oceans for the coming generations.

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14. Life below water