I sometimes wonder why we invent acronyms. Take ABNJ (areas beyond national jurisdiction) and BBNJ (biodiversity in ABNJ) for example. These terms are increasingly used by marine scientists instead of “High Seas”. Yet the term High Seas has longer use and is widely understood beyond scientists.
Article 1 of the Convention on the High Seas established in Geneva in 1958 which entered into force in 1962 defines them as “The term “high seas” means all parts of the sea that are not included in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State.”
Article 2 says “The high seas being open to all nations, no State may validly purport to subject any part of them to its sovereignty. Freedom of the high seas is exercised under the conditions laid down by these articles and by the other rules of international law. It comprises, inter alia, both for coastal and non-coastal States: (1) Freedom of navigation; (2) Freedom of fishing; (3) Freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines; (4) Freedom to fly over the high seas. These freedoms, and others which are recognized by the general principles of international law, shall be exercised by all States with reasonable regard to the interests of other States in their exercise of the freedom of the high seas.”
Clearly, this includes the sea, and air above it, and the seabed. So we should use the simple well-known term High Seas and not exclude readers outside our peers with unnecessary acronyms like ABNJ and BBNJ.
Similarly, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982 defines High Seas as “All parts of the sea that are not included in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State, or in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic State.” It does not exclude biodiversity or seabed.
Indeed, UNCLOS reiterates what is said in the High Seas convention in Article 87 “Freedom of the high seas. 1. The high seas are open to all States, whether coastal or land-locked. Freedom of the high seas is exercised under the conditions laid down by this Convention and by other rules of international law. It comprises, inter alia, both for coastal and land-locked States: (a) freedom of navigation; (b) freedom of overflight; (c) freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines, subject to Part VI; (d) freedom to construct artificial islands and other installations permitted under international law, subject to Part VI; (e) freedom of fishing, subject to the conditions laid down in section 2; (f) freedom of scientific research, subject to Parts VI and XIII. 2. These freedoms shall be exercised by all States with due regard for the interests of other States in their exercise of the freedom of the high seas, and also with due regard for the rights under this Convention with respect to activities in the Area.”
From a biodiversity perspective, UNCLOS Section 2 covers “CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT OF THE LIVING RESOURCES OF THE HIGH SEAS” where Article 116 gives the “Right to fish on the high seas: All States have the right for their nationals to engage in fishing on the high seas subject to: (a) their treaty obligations; (b) the rights and duties as well as the interests of coastal States provided for, inter alia, in article 63, paragraph 2, and articles 64 to 67; and (c) the provisions of this section.” BUT, Article 117 says “All States have the duty to take, or to cooperate with other States in taking, such measures for their respective nationals as may be necessary for the conservation of the living resources of the high seas.” and Article 118 “States shall cooperate with each other in the conservation and management of living resources in the areas of the high seas.” including limiting fish catch (Article 119) “to maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield, as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors”, and they should “(b) take into consideration the effects on species associated with or dependent upon harvested species with a view to maintaining or restoring populations of such associated or dependent species above”.
Sadly but predictably, the tragedy of the commons means the High Seas tend to be over-fished and under-managed, with government subsidised, fossil-fuel consuming, fishing fleets crossing oceans to catch what in the end is less than 0.01% of world marine fishery catch. Independent studies have calculated that a ban on High Seas fishing would increase world fishery yield and profit, and not compromise the availability of fish meal for aquaculture.
More definitions online
the seas that are not controlled by any country (Cambridge Dictionary)
the open part of a sea or ocean especially outside territorial waters (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
high seas all parts of the sea that are not included in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a state (Geneva Convention on the High Seas 1958). The territorial sea was fixed as not exceeding 12 nautical miles by the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. (The Legal Dictionary)