The international evolution of the industry has not been matched on the regulatory front. A truly global industry has been badly regulated by a hotchpotch of global and regional accords and arrangements.
Key in terms of coverage is the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).This provides an international regime for countries to fish in the 40 per cent of the world ocean designated as Exclusive Economic Zones. UNCLOS was designed to ensure that poor maritime countries received a fair share of the catch from their Exclusive Economic Zone. In practice, however, compromise and corruption mean that small-scale fishers have not benefitted significantly from the sovereignty their countries gained over coastal waters.
Meanwhile, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing continues to spread. In addition, efforts to establish international standards for fishers pay and conditions so far have not been successful, and the use of flags of convenience has undermined national regulations that do exist.
There are, of course, many responsible and environmentally aware owners and employers, who are damaged by the competitive advantage gained by those who fish illegally or mistreat their crews. Improving regulations and enforcement would benefit such owners as well as fishers themselves.