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Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ)

The Global sustainable fisheries management and biodiversity conservation in the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) Program promotes efficient and sustainable management of fisheries resources and biodiversity conservation in the ABNJ. Marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ), commonly called the high seas, are those areas of ocean for which no one nation has sole responsibility for management. In all, these make up 40% of the surface of our planet, comprising 64% of the surface of the oceans and nearly 95% of its volume. Often considered the world’s last global commons, the complex ecosystems in the ABNJ include the water column and seabed of the high seas and are mostly far from coasts, making the sustainable management of the fisheries resources and biodiversity conservation in those areas extremely difficult and challenging.


These ecosystems are subject to negative impacts from human activities in many sectors – from shipping to marine pollution to deep sea fishing and mining – all compounded by a lack of comprehensive legal instruments and coherent governance. One of the biggest threats is overfishing. Urgent action is needed to improve management of many ABNJ fisheries and strengthen protection of related ecosystems to prevent devastating impacts on marine biodiversity, socio-economic well-being and food security for millions of people directly dependent on those fisheries.The ABNJ Program is guided by the CBDconcerning Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) beyond national jurisdiction. The ABNJ Program also supports the achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as adopted by the CBD COP in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, in particular: Target 6 by 2020 – all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem-based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits. Furthermore, the ABNJ Program will help UN member states better fulfill their obligations under The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in particular Articles 116 to 119 on conservation and management of the living resources of the high seas and other relevant articles.


The ABNJ Program was approved by GEF Council in November 2011. Since then, the GEF has provided $50M of grants in the Biodiversity and International Waters Focal Areas, leveraging over $269.7M so far in co-financing from public and private partners including: Food and Agriculture Organization; the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations,  the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, the  South Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement, the  International Union for Conservation of Nature, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Global Oceans Forum.


Yellowfin Tuna


The ABNJ Program concentrates on a long-term plan to establish strong networks, best management practices and facilitated information sharing needed to make a transformational impact towards responsible and sustainable use of ABNJ resources. Ultimately, the Program will lead to improved global sustainable fisheries management and biodiversity conservation in the ABNJ by moving away from the race to fish and towards the ecosystem approach and rights-based systems, by increasing our ability to protect fragile ecosystems, and by fostering international and cross-sectoral coordination and information sharing.


The 5-year ABNJ Program is comprised of 4 projects:

  1. The Sustainable Management of Tuna Fisheries and Biodiversity Conservation in the ABNJ pilots Rights-Based Management systems and other sustainable fishing practices; reduces illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and reduces bycatch and other adverse ecosystem impacts on biodiversity.
  2. The Sustainable Fisheries Management and Biodiversity Conservation of Deep-Sea Ecosystems in the ABNJ enhances the sustainability of deep-sea living resources and biodiversity conservation in the ABNJ through the systematic application of an ecosystem approach that improves sustainable management practices for deep-sea fisheries and area-based planning for deep sea ecosystems.
  3.  The Ocean Partnership Facility (OPF) provides links between coasts, Exclusive Economic  Zones and the ABNJ in order to secure healthy ocean ecosystems, biodiversity conservation and food security through sustainable fisheries. Project outcomes will have measurable short-term milestones for poverty alleviation, regional security, fisheries mortality and bycatch reduction. Achieving success of this outcome will enhance the protection of ocean goods and services, and most importantly the biodiversity that underpins them.
  4.  The Strengthening of Global Capacity to Effectively Manage ABNJ aims to improve the global and regional coordination, including exchange of information, on marine ABNJ. This will be accomplished through providing the necessary integrated information systems, advocacy platforms and social networks, as well as through facilitating more dialogues with decision makers, including Ministries of Finance and Fisheries. This will result in: coordination; increasing transparency in regional governance and decision-making processes; and improving the interest and capability of high-level government officials and other participants to better advocate their interest in global and regional ABNJ processes.