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. 2015 Feb 12;5:8481.
doi: 10.1038/srep08481.

Winners and Losers in a World Where the High Seas Is Closed to Fishing

Free PMC article

Winners and Losers in a World Where the High Seas Is Closed to Fishing

U Rashid Sumaila et al. Sci Rep. .
Free PMC article


Fishing takes place in the high seas and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of maritime countries. Closing the former to fishing has recently been proposed in the literature and is currently an issue of debate in various international fora. We determine the degree of overlap between fish caught in these two areas of the ocean, examine how global catch might change if catches of straddling species or taxon groups increase within EEZs as a result of protection of adjacent high seas; and identify countries that are likely to gain or lose in total catch quantity and value following high-seas closure. We find that <0.01% of the quantity and value of commercial fish taxa are obtained from catch taken exclusively in the high seas, and if the catch of straddling taxa increases by 18% on average following closure because of spillover, there would be no loss in global catch. The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, would decrease from 0.66 to 0.33. Thus, closing the high seas could be catch-neutral while inequality in the distribution of fisheries benefits among the world's maritime countries could be reduced by 50%.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing financial interests.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Average annual portions of taxa taken from the high seas only, from both the high seas and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), and from EEZs only based on global catch statistics 2000–2010.
(a), Number of taxa (total = 1,406); (b), Catch quantities (thousand t) (total = 80,028); and c, Landed values (million US$) (total = 108,585).
Figure 2
Figure 2. Global map of the predicted distribution of gains or losses in total marine fisheries landed values.
Based on a scenario where the catch of straddling taxa increase by 18% following a high-seas closure. Current landed value is the product of catch and ex-vessel price. Catch data were extracted from the Sea Around Us global catch database ( while ex-vessel prices were obtained from Sumaila et al. and Swartz et al.. The annual catch of straddling taxa by each fishing country was projected to increase by 18% under the high-seas closure scenario, whereas the catch of non-straddling taxa remains unchanged. Countries with negative and positive change in landed values were labelled “Loss” and “Gain” in the map, respectively. ESRI ArcMap 10.1. was used to create the map.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Lorenz curves showing the cumulative percentages of relative landed values obtained from the high seas under the status quo and a closure (to fishing) scenario against the cumulative percentages of countries, starting with the country that obtains the lowest relative landed value.
The closure scenario shown assumes that the catch of straddling taxa following the closure increases by at least 18%. Under this scenario, the Gini coefficient drops by 50%, from 0.66 to 0.33.

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