As with such newspapers as The Guardian, National Public Radio is prone to confirming Betteridge’s Law. Which, roughly enough, states that any headline with a question mark can be answered with a “no.” Thus the answer here is no:

Could A Ban On Fishing In International Waters Become A Reality?

The reason being that they’re international waters.

The underlying thought is just fine. Yes, no fish zones, reserves, do leave the space for fish to spawn (or for the indelicate, space for fish to do why WC Fields wouldn’t drink water), yes, that raises catches in the areas around and over time. Sure, we should be having more reserves as a solution to our fishing problems. But having them in international waters? Nope, that’s the error. The point isn’t that no one owns them therefore that’s where we should not allow people to do the fishing. It’s that no one owns them therefore there’s no one with the power over them. And the reason that no one owns them is that no one has the ability to project their power over them. That’s why they are international waters, not carved up into territorial waters.

This doesn’t therefore work:

That’s why some activists and scientists are now discussing the idea of creating a marine reserve so big it would cover most of the ocean. Specifically, they want fishing banned in international waters.

Also called the high seas, international waters include all parts of the ocean 200 miles or more from sovereign land. That’s about 58 percent of the ocean’s surface. In this largely unregulated area, fishing boats use voluminous trawl nets, longlines miles in length, and other industrial gear to catch migrating tunas and billfishes, sharks, and seafloor species like toothfish, usually sold as Chilean sea bass.

The environmental impact of these fisheries can be devastating. Deep-sea trawling destroys seafloor habitats, including ancient corals, while killing many creatures that are ultimately discarded. Meanwhile, the total contribution to the world’s food supply from these fisheries is negligible, catch records have shown.

Proponents say a fishing ban could be an effective way to protect depleted species and ultimately create more fish in coastal waters, where fishers could still deploy hooks and nets.

All of the bits about the desirability of reserves are true. But we’ve got to consider who owns what.

Traditionally who owns that sea has expanded as technology marched on. Out to three miles was the first useful definition of water that belonged to the littoral kingdom. Some say that it’s the distance a girt big cannon can fire. Others, and more likely, that it’s about how far you can see round the curvature of the Earth if you stand on the seashore. As varied technologies got better territorial waters became 12 miles. What you can and do defend easily enough. Contiguous waters go out another 12 miles (all nautical of course). As we found things like oil and gas out there – and decent fishing grounds – exclusive economic ones go to 200 miles.

But there’s no particular rhyme nor reason to these distances other than useful assumptions of how well the littoral states could project their power. If it was simple to defend an control the sea out to 500 miles then that’s what the EEZs would be.

That is, the very reason they’re international waters is because nation states, given the current level of technology, can’t control them. Including controlling who fishes in them. Thus NPR here is guilty of more than just a Betteridge’s Law confirmation. They’ve not thought through why we’ve even the concept of the high seas that no one controls.

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Esteban DeGolf

Assuming they are right about the problem – not conceding that, just for the sake of discussion, they are green loons after all, good chance they’re way off on that – would it be possible or practical to enter into a treaty that we all leave that space unfished?


It would be downright lucrative! provided you are among the nations that don’t sign it, or sign it and violate it, or are sufficiently pathetic to have the treaty include special dispensations or transfers from more-developed nations. Almost as good as Nuclear Non-proliferation.