Greenpeace report reveals shocking failures in global fisheries management

A new Greenpeace International report reveals shocking failures in global fisheries management over the last 70 years.


London, Thursday 6 June 2024 – A Greenpeace International report published today reveals shocking failures in global fisheries management over the last 70 years. The report, Un-tangled: How the Global Ocean Treaty can help repair high seas mismanagement, details how Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have failed to manage global overfishing since their emergence, resulting in 35.4% of all assessed fish stocks now being severely overfished [1]. RFMOs are composed of nation states, and exist to sustainably manage fishing and its impact in international waters.

The report also sets out how the Global Ocean Treaty, adopted in June 2023, can address the current ocean crisis with tools that go beyond the narrow sectoral approach, and work with RFMOs to remedy this broken status quo [2]. 

Reshima Sharma, Political Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said:

“We are optimistic that protecting our blue planet is possible with the help of the Global Ocean Treaty. This historic agreement was years in the making, years in which our global fisheries have been decimated, jeopardising ocean health and food security for millions. 

“Before the end of this year, the incoming government needs to sign the treaty into UK law to kickstart ocean protection on a global scale and fix the broken system. The new government could immediately cement the UK’s position as a global leader on ocean protection and help protect at least 30% of the world’s ocean before the end of this decade.” 

Laura Meller of Greenpeace’s global Protect the Oceans campaign said:

Science and the safeguarding of thriving fish populations for all future generations should be the compass guiding governments’ choices. Instead, Regional Fisheries Management Organisations have overseen industrial plundering of the oceans at a scale beyond anything seen before in human history.

“This broken system has prioritised extraction for a few wealthy countries over protection for us all. Governments must prize biodiversity protection over extraction and ratify the Global Ocean Treaty so, in future, protection and justice are at the heart of ocean governance.

The report, which comes ahead of an international oceans conference “Immersed In Change” (7 June  – 8 June), at which solutions to ocean governance will be discussed, explains why RFMOs have not delivered on their mandate to preserve marine biodiversity.[3] At the core of this is abuse of consensus decision making that allows single countries to block vital measures, corporate influence which creates substantial conflicts of interests, and RFMOs’ continued failure to follow scientific advice.[4] 

Since RFMOs emerged 70 years ago, ocean health has relentlessly declined, as they have failed to prevent overfishing, the decimation of sensitive species and the destruction of vulnerable marine ecosystems.[5]

The report also presents cases of weaponising doubt in the scientific process, often resulting in decisions that allow continued overexploitation and hinder measures to protect the environment.

Laura Meller added: Behind closed doors, corporate capture of RFMOs has left them powerless and counterproductive. On their watch the oceans have been plunged deep into crisis and the broken status quo must change before it’s too late. The Global Ocean Treaty provides hope. If it’s ratified in 2025, it will enable us to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030, giving marine life a chance to recover from decades of mismanagement by RFMOs.”

Greenpeace is calling on the UK government to ratify the Global Ocean Treaty by the end of the year, and to support other states across the world to do the same. Greenpeace is also calling for the UK government to work with other countries to develop a proposal for a high seas ocean sanctuary within the Sargasso Sea, the uniquely biodiverse part of the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda.



Alex Sedgwick, press officer, Greenpeace UK: +44 7973 873 155 (BST)

Magali Rubino, Global media lead for Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign, Greenpeace France: +33 7 78 41 78 78 (GMT+1)

Greenpeace International Press Desk:, +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)


Notes to editors

Photographs are available in the Greenpeace Media Library

Greenpeace is calling on governments across the world to urgently ratify the Global Ocean Treaty so it enters into force by the UN Ocean Conference in June 2025. The Treaty can only enter into force 120 days after 60 countries have signed it into national law, meaning countries must ratify the Treaty by February 2025 at the latest to meet this deadline.

[1] The report “Un-tangled: how the Global Ocean Treaty can help repair high seas mismanagement” is available here.

[2] The Treaty will enter into force 120 days after 60 countries have ratified it. The UN Secretary-General is required to convene the first meeting of the COP to the Agreement no later than one year after its entry into force. The interaction between the future Global Ocean Treaty CoP and RFMOs was a key discussion during the negotiations, especially in relation to the text of the Treaty which addresses Area Based Management Tools (ABMTs) and how this will play out in practice once the treaty has entered into force.

[3] The “Immersed in Change” conference is a stakeholder meeting in advance of the 3rd UN Ocean Conference (“UNOC-3”) to be held in Nice in 2025, co-chaired by France and Costa Rica.

A delegation will be in San José for the “Immersed in Change” meeting and will be available for interviews.

[4] A study in 2019 showed that for all annual meetings between 2004 and 2011 for all five tuna RFMOs, the seafood and fishing industry in attendance were larger than all civil society. Petersson M., Dellmuth L., Merrie A. and Österblom H. (2019). Patterns and trends in non-state actor participation in regional fisheries management organizations. Marine Policy, Vol. 104, Issue 5, pp. 146-156. DOI:10.1016/j.marpol.2019.02.025

[5] Major figures analysed in the report include:

  • Global overfishing has risen, almost uninterrupted, since the 1970s. It hit a historic high in 2019 of 35.4% of all assessed fish stocks.*
  • Since the emergence of the first RFMOs, global annual wild capture fisheries landings increased from approximately 20 million tons in 1950 to a high of around 90 million metric tons in the mid-1990s and have since stabilised at this number.*
  • While RFMOs have a mandate to manage and monitor species and ecosystems associated with their target species, their scope is narrow and far from representing global ocean biodiversity: scientists estimate that RFMO assessments cover only 5% of high seas biodiversity.**
  • While the high seas are common heritage of all humankind, their exploitation benefits few: 97% of all high seas fishing is undertaken by vessels flagged to higher-income countries.***
  • An average of 55% of RFMO managed stocks are considered collapsed and overexploited.
  • 75% of an assessed 48 different high seas fish stocks are considered depleted or overfished.****

*FAO (2022). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022. Towards Blue Transformation. Rome: FAO.

**Crespo, G.O., Dunn, D.C., Gianni, M., Gjerde, K., Wright, G., and Halpin, P.N. (2019). High-seas fish biodiversity is slipping through the governance net. Nature Ecology & Evolution .

***Wealthy countries dominate industrial fishing (2018 ) 

****Cullis-Suzuki S. and Pauly D. (2010). Failing the high seas: A global evaluation of regional fisheries management organizations. Marine Policy, Vol. 34, Issue;  

The Global Ocean Treaty is the most significant multilateral environmental deal since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

It was agreed on March 4 2023, adopted in June 2023 and opened for signature at the UN in September 2023. The Global Ocean Treaty is a legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).

All governments agreed to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 2022.


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