Close the high seas to fishing?

PLoS Biol. 2014 Mar 25;12(3):e1001826. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001826. eCollection 2014 Mar.


The world's oceans are governed as a system of over 150 sovereign exclusive economic zones (EEZs, ∼42% of the ocean) and one large high seas (HS) commons (∼58% of ocean) with essentially open access. Many high-valued fish species such as tuna, billfish, and shark migrate around these large oceanic regions, which as a consequence of competition across EEZs and a global race-to-fish on the HS, have been over-exploited and now return far less than their economic potential. We address this global challenge by analyzing with a spatial bioeconomic model the effects of completely closing the HS to fishing. This policy both induces cooperation among countries in the exploitation of migratory stocks and provides a refuge sufficiently large to recover and maintain these stocks at levels close to those that would maximize fisheries returns. We find that completely closing the HS to fishing would simultaneously give rise to large gains in fisheries profit (>100%), fisheries yields (>30%), and fish stock conservation (>150%). We also find that changing EEZ size may benefit some fisheries; nonetheless, a complete closure of the HS still returns larger fishery and conservation outcomes than does a HS open to fishing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Fisheries*
  • Fishes*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Oceans and Seas

Grant support

We acknowledge financial support from the Waitt Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.