Main Issue

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 percent of the surface of our planet, comprising 64 percent of the surface of the oceans and nearly 95 percent of its volume.

Urgent action is needed to improve management of many ABNJ fisheries and strengthen protection of related ecosystems. In this way, we can prevent devastating impacts on marine biodiversity, socio-economic well-being and food security for millions of people directly dependent on those fisheries.

Often considered the world’s last standing “global commons,” the complex ecosystems in the ABNJ include the water column and seabed of the high seas. They are mostly far from coasts, making the sustainable management of the fisheries resources and biodiversity conservation in those areas extremely challenging. ABNJ 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.

What We Do

Within the ABNJ (often characterized as the areas beyond the national exclusive economic zone), the GEF has primarily been investing in tuna fisheries and its management, but also in an Applied Ecosystem-Based Approach to Fisheries Management of seamounts in the Southern Indian Ocean.

The waters of the Western and Central Pacific (WCP) region, for example, hold the world’s largest tuna stocks, as well as large numbers of sharks, billfish and other large pelagics. Sustainable management of WCP tuna stocks is critical not only to the well-being of the region’s people, but also for the international community seeking to conserve an economic resource of global value.

Within the WCP, also known as the Western Pacific Warm Pool Large Marine Ecosystem, 15 of 22 Pacific islands and territories participated in a GEF ocean management project. Among its results, the project helped set global precedents for how distant water fishing nations and coastal states can collaborate on resource management. It serves as a showcase for empowering small islands to engage on an even footing with larger and more politically influential countries.


The waters surrounding the Small Island Developing States of the Pacific support the largest tuna fishery of any ocean. In 2004, GEF support led directly to the establishment of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. The Commission has responsibility for the conservation, management and sustainable use of tuna resources across a convention area that covers approximately 100 million km2 — or 20 percent of the Earth’s surface.

The GEF project supported the Pacific island nations as they negotiated a new, ecosystem-based convention — a 10-year process. One of the goals of the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is to ensure that all Pacific countries benefit from the sustainable management of a regional resource worth over $4 billion a year. Apart from helping Pacific countries optimize economic returns from its rich tuna stocks, the project has put in place conservation and management measures to mitigate overfishing bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks.