The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes the global framework for the governance of fisheries. It distinguishes between fisheries within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which are managed by the coastal State, and fisheries on the high seas outside the EEZ. It also contains special provisions for highly migratory stocks (that move between areas of EEZ and high seas, such as tuna), straddling stocks (that straddle both high seas and EEZ), and anadromous stocks (that migrate between the sea and freshwater).
UNCLOS reaffirms the right of all States to fish on the high seas, subject to a number of duties, including the duty to cooperate with other States to conserve and manage the marine living resources of the high seas. The 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) further elaborates on this core principle, and provides a more detailed framework for cooperation with other countries to conserve and manage highly migratory and straddling stocks. The FAO 1993 Compliance Agreement and accompanying voluntary Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries also set out standards to ensure that fisheries are effectively conserved and managed. New Zealand ratified the UNFSA on 18 April 2001 and became party to the FAO Compliance Agreement on 14 July 2005.
Under this framework, specific fisheries are managed through regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) established by States with an interest in those fisheries. New Zealand is a member of three RFMOs: the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT); the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC); and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Each of these bodies is established by an international treaty, and the conservation and management decisions taken by them are binding on New Zealand. New Zealand is also signatory to the Convention which will establish a South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) to conserve and manage non-highly migratory fisheries and protect biodiversity in the marine environment in the high seas of the South Pacific Ocean. New Zealand was first to sign the Convention when it opened for signature on 1 February 2010, and looks forward to the Convention coming into force as soon as possible. Further information can be found on the SPRFMO website.
In addition, New Zealand is engaged in a wide range of efforts to strengthen and improve the governance framework for high seas fishing through organizations such as the FAO and the Forum Fisheries Agency in the Pacific to counter the problems of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. New Zealand signed the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing on 15 December 2009 and is currently working towards ratification. A key regional initiative is the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region, which aims to foster regional cooperation in fisheries legislation, surveillance and law enforcement. New Zealand ratified the Niue Treaty on 16 August 2005.