About the Commission

The Global Ocean Commission originated as an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, in partnership with Somerville College at the University of Oxford Adessium Foundation and Oceans 5. It was supported by Pew, Adessium Foundation, Oceans 5 and The Swire Group Charitable Trust, but is independent of all. It was hosted by Somerville College.


The objective of the Commission was to formulate politically and technically feasible short-, medium- and long-term recommendations to address four key issues facing the high seas:


  • large-scale loss of habitat and biodiversity
  • the lack of effective management and enforcement
  • deficiencies in high seas governance.

The Commission’s work focused on four key tasks:

  1. Examine key threats, challenges, and changes to the ocean in the 21st century, and identify priority issues. The Commission will begin by analysing threats to the global ocean, based on the latest and most rigorous evidence from science and economics. It will map out the implications of a business-as-usual approach. In this phase of its work, it will draw on the abundance of existing reports from world experts, but will also begin original research in partnership with other organisations.
  2. Review the effectiveness of the existing legal framework for the high seas in meeting the unique challenges and threats of the 21st century and beyond. In the context of high seas fisheries, this means a special focus on the effectiveness of RFMOs, particularly with respect to their accountability, transparency, and performance. It also means analysing the governance gap on biodiversity conservation, options for combatting IUU fishing, and the suitability of the existing legal regime for regulating emerging uses of the global ocean.
  3. Engage with interested parties around the world, including groups of people with direct interests in ocean issues as well as the general public. The Commission will connect with constituencies including fishers, military and merchant navies, recreational sailors, seafood companies, conservation groups and the emergent seabed mining business, to ensure their interests are heard. The Commission will also raise understanding among policymakers, economists and other groups, including the general public, of the implications should high seas issues not be reformed. The Commission will provide a window into the problems and challenges that inspire its work, and find creative ways to involve, engage, and communicate that work to a broader public audience.
  4. Make recommendations regarding cost-effective, pragmatic and politically feasible reforms of high seas governance, management and enforcement. The Commission, based on the evidence and testimonies before it, will formulate recommendations that not only present a reasonable prospect of resolving gaps and weaknesses that have been identified, but can also be effectively implemented. Some may concern the fundamental legal framework under which the global ocean is governed; others may deal with changes to regulations; others may focus on improving the effectiveness of existing mechanisms. While its threat analysis will take account of external issues such as climate change, its recommendations will focus on reforms that can be achieved by evolving high seas governance. The recommendations will be ambitious yet achievable, and be capable, if enacted in full, of ensuring a healthy, productive ocean for generations to come.