The first global treaty for fighting illegal fishing was recently finalized. 29 countries and a regional organization have joined together to beat back a problem that imperils fish populations around the world. 

According to WWF, "the global fishing fleet is 2-3 times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support." More than 50% of fish populations are severely depleted. Another 30% are close to endangered levels. Up to a third of global fish hauls are done illegally--adding strain to an already severely strained industry. 

Tuna and mackeral populations, for example, have plunged around 75% over the past 4 decades. 

The heart of the problem is that there is so little regulation of the world's oceans. They are essentially lawless. Attempts to limit destructive methods and patterns are often thwarted, because boats can usually slip into another country's maritime territory if pursued, and that new zone may or may not be coordinated with neighboring countries.   

So the only way to effectively police the world's oceans is for countries to band together, share information and assist one another in enforcement. 

That's what this new treaty hopes to accomplish. 

Primarily, countries will be asked to step up their investigation and oversight of boats. If a boat does not have proper licenses, punishments will be handed out and catches will be seized. Over time, this could act as a major deterrent. 

Since countries will be sharing data, illegal boats will have a harder time finding a permissive port.

Boats will also be held to far higher standards when it comes to using gear, handling endangered species and disregarding catch quotas. 

The treaty only covers a fraction of the world's oceans, but it's a significant milestone. As other countries realize the benefits of cooperation, they, too, will join the effort. Eventually, the world's oceans could be monitored and protected, and instead of dealing with dying ecosystems, humanity can guarantee a future of abundance. 


Defend the Planet

How this global treaty could save the world's fish

By Joe McCarthy