International Fishing

Map showing the areas of responsibility for the WCPFC and IATTC and shared jurisdiction. Source: Brouwer et al. 2015. Note: red lines delineate WCPO and EPO.

The ocean can be separated by two basic delineations: 1) the high seas or international waters and 2) waters under national jurisdiction. Similarly, nations can fall within one of two categories: 1) coastal States, which have geographic boundaries adjacent to the ocean, and 2) non-coastal States, which have no boundaries adjacent to the ocean. Since the early 1980s, the international legal framework has provided that coastal States possess sovereign rights and management responsibility over fishery resources within their 200 nautical mile (nm) exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In exercising their jurisdiction over their national waters, coastal States generally prohibit foreign fishing vessels from fishing with their EEZs unless specially authorized.

On the other hand, the high seas are subject to international management. Under international law all countries, including non-coastal States, have the right to fish on the high seas. Since the 1990s, however, high seas fisheries have been subject to more regulation by the international community. Generally, fisheries that occur in the high seas are subject to international management regimes developed by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). For highly migratory species (HMS), such as tuna and billfish, which do not restrict themselves to political boundaries, international cooperation is essential to manage the stocks across their range. Generally, RFMOs serve to bridge the management gap between the EEZ and high seas regimes to ensure sustainability of transboundary fish stocks and consistency with the rights and obligations under international law provided to coastal States and States fishing on the high seas.

With regard to HMS fisheries management, the Pacific Ocean is divided into two large areas: the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) and the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO). The longitudinal line separating the WCPO from the EPO is typically delineated at 150º W. The RFMO in the WCPO is the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the RFMO in the EPO is the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). However, there is an area of overlap, such that the WCPFC area encompasses waters east of 150º W to include French Polynesia (see map). In addition to the high seas of the WCPO, the area of the WCPFC also includes EEZs of coastal States, but generally national waters from 0-12 nm fall outside of the WCPFC management purview.

Workshops either hosted or cohosted by the council:

Name of Workshop Location Dates
Development of New WCPFC Tropical Tuna Measure Workshop 2 (WCPFC)* Web conference Sept. 5-9, 2021
WCPFC – Development of New WCPFC Tropical Tuna Measure Workshop 1* Web conference April 25-29, 2021
International Workshop on Area-Based Management of Blue Water Fisheries Web conference June 15-17, 2020
Pacific Islands Region FAD Issues and Priorities Workshop Pier 38, Honolulu, HI Feb. 13-14, 2013


Pacific Insular Area Fishing Agreements

Provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) allow foreign vessels to fish within the US EEZ around the US Territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Pacific Remote Island Areas (PIRIAs). The foreign fishing authorizations are called Pacific Insular Area Fishing Agreements (PIAFA). While PIAFAs are possible, none have been authorized to date.

The specific terms of the PIAFA, such as limited entry, area closures, gear restrictions, observer and agreement duration, are all determined in negotiations. It is specifically stated in the MSA that all payments for PIAFA are to be monetary to support projects listed in a territory’s Marine Conservation Plan. The following represents the MSA PIAFA provisions:

  1. The Secretary of State may negotiate and enter into a Pacific Insular Area fishery agreement to authorize foreign fishing within the EEZ for American Samoa, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands at the request and concurrence of the governor of that area.
  2. Pacific Insular Area agreements shall not supersede any other governing international fishing agreements in effect under the MSA.
  3. Pacific Insular Area agreements shall be negotiated and implemented consistent with governing international fishery agreement provisions.
  4. Pacific Insular Area agreements cannot be negotiated with countries in violation of a governing international fishery agreement in effect under the MSA.
  5. Pacific Insular Area agreements cannot be entered into if the agreement would adversely affect the fishing activities of the indigenous people of the area.
  6. Pacific Insular Area agreements are valid for a maximum of three years, and only become effective according to congressional oversight of these international fishery agreements.
  7. Pacific Insular Area agreements require the foreign nation of the agreement (and its fishing vessels) to comply with regulations pursuant to the MSA, comply with MSA-related enforcement, comply with the set total allowable level of foreign fishing, among other MSA-related compliance checks.
  8. Pacific Insular Area agreement-authorized foreign fishing will be approved or disapproved based on eligibility, submitted forms, content, transmittal for action, action by council, approval by secretary, establishment of conditions/restrictions, and notice of approval of application.
  9. Upon receipt of a payment required under a Pacific Insular Area fishing agreement, the Secretary shall issue the permits for the appropriate fishing vessels from that nation.


  • Barclay K. 2010. History of Industrial Tuna Fishing in the Pacific Islands: A HMAP Asia Project Paper. Working Paper No. 169. Perth, Australia: Murdoch University.
  • Bell J, Allain V, Allison E, Andrfouet S, Andrew N, Batty M, Blanc M, Dambacher J, Hampton J and Hanich Q. 2015. Diversifying the use of tuna to improve food security and public health in Pacific Island countries and territories. Marine Policy, 51, 584-591.
  • Charlton KE, Russell J, Gorman E, Hanich Q, Delisle A, Campbell B and Bell J. 2016. Fish, food security and health in Pacific Island countries and territories: a systematic literature review. BMC Public Health, 16(1), 285.
  • Williams P, Terawasi P and Reid C. 2017. Overview of tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Thirteenth Regular Session of the WCPC Scientific Committee. 9-17 August 2017. Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 71. WCPFC-SC13-2017/GN-WP-01. 2.