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Oceans and fisheries

Strengthening the international ocean governance framework

The EU is a promoter of coordinated multilateral responses to global problems and an upholder of the rules-based international system. The ocean requires a collective approach based on the provisions of international law and with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) at its core. Through its political and diplomatic leverage, upholding fundamental rights and promoting sustainable development in line with the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the EU is as a driving force in international negotiations, fora and processes for a sustainable ocean governance.

In line with the European Green Deal, the Joint Communication on Multilateralism, the EU Strategic Compass and the EU policy for a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic, the EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, the EU pursues partnerships and alliances by means of regional and bilateral dialogues, ocean-related development cooperation, specific outreach and demarches, coalition-building on key priorities and (co)-hosting multi-stakeholder global events to further mobilise and sustain the momentum for global action.

Through the EU maritime security strategy (EUMSS) the EU addresses challenges affecting the security of the ocean such as cross-border and organised crime, threats to freedom of navigation, threats to biodiversity, climate security challenges or environmental degradation.

Marine biodiversity protection and conservation are key priorities under the EU’s external action in pursuit of the future international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS on marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ)  and the future post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, including the proposed ‘30% protection goal by 2030’ under the CBD. To this purposes the EU has set-up a High Ambition Coalition on BBNJ to push for the reach of the agreement still in 2022. Furthermore, through its diplomatic leverage and outreach capacities, it continues to help broker an agreement on the designation of new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean as an important contribution to the 30% protection goal by 2030.

On deep seabed mining, the EU will continue to advocate for prohibiting deep-sea mining until these scientific gaps are properly filled, that it can be demonstrated that no harmful effects arise from mining and, as required under the UNCLOS, the necessary provisions in the exploitation regulations for the effective protection of the marine environment are in place.

Fishing activities should respect the principles of long-term conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources and marine ecosystems. Therefore EU has adopted a 'zero tolerance' approach against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, to support compliance with conservation and management rules. Through its IUU fisheries dialogues with non-EU countries based on the IUU Regulation, the EU further ensures countries abide by their international obligations. Moreover, the EU continues having a leading role in the WTO negotiation to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.

At global level, EU contributes to governance in fishing activities through sustainable fisheries partnership agreements (SFPAs). Those agreements provide a solid framework for bilateral cooperation with selected non-EU partner countries and contribute to enhance marine, maritime and fisheries policies including environmental, social and trade aspects.

The EU is the most prominent actor in regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) and fisheries bodies worldwide. There, the EU promotes the sustainability of fish stocks, promotes transparent decision-making based on sound scientific advice, enhances scientific research, and strengthens compliance.

The conservation and sustainable use of Arctic marine living resources, including fish stocks, is also crucial. The EU, as party to the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean, is committed to its full implementation. 

Marine environmental protection is coordinated regionally through the EU’s engagement in the Regional Sea Conventions (RSCs), notably through the strong links with the EU’s own implementation of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), thereby ensuring that both EU Member States and third countries aspire to an equivalent ambition of protection of the seas and ocean.

The EU has close relations with several partners such as the long-term partnership with African, Caribbean and Pacific states, which it seeks to reinforce through the Partnership Agreement  with the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) that will succeed the Cotonou Agreement. Together with the EU’s partnership and cooperation agreements (PCAs) and trade agreements with many of its third partners, it will provide the basis for stronger political and strategic engagement based on common values and objectives.


  • News announcement

The Commission welcomes the adoption today by the Council of a decision to conclude the United Nations agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), also known as the ‘High Seas Treaty’.

  • 2 min read