In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Fisheries Law

  • Introduction
  • General Literature
  • Fisheries in Maritime Zones Subject to Coastal State Sovereignty
  • Anadromous and Catadromous Fish Stocks
  • Continental Shelf Fisheries (Sedentary Species)
  • Inter-State Dispute Settlement in International Fisheries Law

International Law International Fisheries Law
Valentin J. Schatz, Arron N. Honniball
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0196


International fisheries law is a broad field of international law within which significant state practice, instruments, and relevant fora are found at the global, regional, subregional, bilateral, and national level. For the purposes of this bibliography, the analysis of international fisheries law is limited to the law governing marine capture fisheries (other fisheries law definitions may include the regulation of aquaculture or inland fisheries). This bibliography also primarily approaches fisheries law as a matter of fisheries conservation and management under the international law of the sea. The two main treaties of global application which reflect its foundational framework are the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the United Nations Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (UNFSA). As a starting point, one should consult the maritime zones established under UNCLOS and customary law, whereby the distribution of rights and obligations among the various capacities of states differs per maritime zone. As fish do not respect legal boundaries, special rules of international law that emphasize cooperation and management between states must be adopted and adapted for shared fish stocks such as transboundary fish stocks, straddling fish stocks, and highly migratory fish stocks. In addition, various treaties of global application dealing with specific issues exist, such as the 1993 Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas (Compliance Agreement) and, most recently, the 2009 Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA). This global treaty framework is complemented by various global non–legally binding instruments, most of which were adopted under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). On the regional level, countless multilateral and bilateral fisheries treaties have been concluded, and the field remains highly dynamic. Notably, many fisheries are nowadays managed by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and Arrangements (RFMO/As) or bilateral fisheries commissions. As a thematically defined field of law, international fisheries law is not restricted to the rules governing conservation and management of marine fisheries, but may equally raise, among other issues, questions of general international law of the sea such as jurisdiction and maritime law enforcement operations, international environmental law, international trade law, international human rights law, and international dispute settlement.

General Literature

As international fisheries law is an extensive and rather technical discipline, there is no wealth of literature of sufficient breadth to be called ‘general.’ In particular, there has never been an English-language text book on international fisheries law. Nonetheless, with Johnston 1965, Burke 1994, de Yturriaga 1997, and Kaye 2001, several monographs of considerable generality exist. In addition, we have selected Hey 1999 and Caddell and Molenaar 2019 as two very useful edited volumes which assemble useful contributions on the developments in, and specificities of, international fisheries law. Tanaka 2019; Rothwell, et al. 2015; and Proelss 2017 provide a more general introduction to international fisheries law as a helpful point of departure for further research. Finally, the factual, economic, and societal background of fisheries practices is a necessary part of understanding the challenges faced by international fisheries law. This section therefore includes Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2018 as the most recent report of the FAO on the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture.

  • Burke, William. The New International Law of Fisheries: UNCLOS 1982 and Beyond. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

    This textbook, published the same year that UNCLOS entered into force, remains a leading work on modern international fisheries law. In addition to the historical development of contemporary international fisheries law and an analysis of the fisheries regimes of the various maritime zones, the book devotes special attention to the conservation and management of anadromous and highly migratory species.

  • Caddell, Richard, and Erik Molenaar, eds. Strengthening International Fisheries Law in an Era of Changing Oceans. Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2019.

    This new edited collection provides interdisciplinary perspectives on contemporary challenges in international fisheries law. It provides a useful point of departure for research into how international fisheries law will address continuing, emerging, and sometimes unforeseen changes in our blue planet, including the challenges posed by changing fisheries and ocean conditions, especially climate change.

  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018: Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. Rome, Italy: FAO.

    This biennial report by the FAO highlights the importance of fisheries within society and their current status according to the FAO’s official world fishery and aquaculture statistics. Latter parts of the report address the current legal and policy developments at the global level, ongoing studies, and selected emerging issues. The report is therefore invaluable in providing a societal context for developments in international fisheries law.

  • Hey, Ellen, ed. Developments in International Fisheries Law. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1999.

    This broad collection edited by Hey contains instructive chapters dealing with many contemporary issues of international fisheries law, some of which are also represented in this bibliography. Somewhat strikingly, most of the developments and challenges this book identified in 1999 remain.

  • Johnston, Douglas. The International Law of Fisheries: A Framework for Policy-Oriented Inquiries. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1965.

    In this early and extensive study, Johnston traces the historical evolution and the underlying challenges of international fisheries law. Johnston’s analysis focuses on the concepts of exploitation and conservation authority, describing how those changed in state practice up until 1965.

  • Kaye, Stuart. International Fisheries Management. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2001.

    This monograph provides an analysis of the historical evolution of the contemporary fisheries conservation and management framework under international fisheries law. Kaye puts a special emphasis on management principles such as the precautionary and ecosystem approaches to fisheries management. The book’s hypotheses are then assessed against various regional case studies taken from the Arctic and Antarctica.

  • Proelss, Alexander, ed. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS): A Commentary. Munich: C.H. Beck, 2017.

    This commentary provides detailed interpretations to the provisions of UNCLOS. UNCLOS contains the basic (and sometimes specific) legal framework of international fisheries law, including the general allocation of fisheries jurisdiction and fisheries access via the differing maritime zones. Commentaries include references to each provision’s historical background and, importantly, to contemporary state practice and international jurisprudence.

  • Rothwell, Donald, Alex Oude Elferink, Karen Scott, and Tim Stephens, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Law of the Sea. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    This handbook contains contributions on most general topics of the international law of the sea, including its historical background, the various maritime zones, and the conservation and management of marine living resources. As such, it provides a solid and authoritative starting point for research on each of these subjects, including international fisheries law.

  • Tanaka, Yoshifumi. The International Law of the Sea. 3rd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 2019.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108545907

    Of the various textbooks on the international law of the sea that could be added here, Tanaka’s book is particularly helpful and widely used. Published in 2019, this third edition constitutes the most up to date textbook on the law of the sea. In his analysis, Tanaka closely follows the provisions of UNCLOS. Besides the usual chapters dealing with the maritime zones of coastal states and the high seas, Tanaka devotes a separate chapter on the conservation of marine living resources, including fisheries.

  • de Yturriaga, José Antonio. The International Regime of Fisheries: From UNCLOS 1982 to the Presential Sea. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1997.

    In this important monograph, de Yturriaga discusses the historical background of the international fisheries law regime established by UNCLOS, before proceeding to an analysis of its provisions. In addition, de Yturriaga devotes a chapter to post-UNCLOS developments in international fisheries law.

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