By Chris Adams

It sounds so simple: “Managing overfishing is a solvable problem,” said Amanda Nickson of the Pew Charitable Trusts. “All you have to do is not take too much out.”

Of course, when those fish you want to take out swim from one country’s waters to another, a simple math equation isn’t so simple. Nickson is director of Pew’s international fisheries division and discussed the challenges of that field with National Press Foundation fellows.

“If you have a fish that moves in and out of a region, how do you regulate that?” Nickson asked.

The rules for pulling fish from the ocean are overseen by regional fishery management organizations, which exist in most high seas areas that have major deep-sea fisheries. They collect fisheries statistics, make management decisions and monitor fishing activities.

Most of the regional organizations were set up after World War II, when people didn’t really think there was any reason to limit fishing. They are subject to negotiation and renegotiation, and obviously countries don’t always see eye-to-eye on how to manage a resource that could help feed its people and boost its industries. Enforcement and compliance vary widely as well.

“They’re not working well,” Nickson said, adding, “We’re only at the beginning of fixing the problem.”

Nickson described the treaties that sanction the regional organizations – there are 17 in total – and how some have worked much better than others. Some have more modern governance structures than others, for example.

That said, it’s ultimately a political battle for any country wanting a share of the sea’s catch: “You’re going to argue for your interests,” she said.