Topic Area: Fisheries.

Geographic Area: Falkland Islands.

Focal Question: Will the UK and Argentina find a way to jointly manage straddling stocks on the

Patagonia shelf?



(1) Bethlehem, Roel Hans. "Fishery conflicts around the Falkland Islands."  Website visited 3/20/2002.


(2) Stanley. "Virtue Rewarded: Conservation in the Falkland Islands." The Economist. January 19, 2000: 65‑66.


(3) Councillor Cockwell's letter to Argentina about squid fishing. Written February 20, 2001. Falkland Islands Government. Website visited 3/20/2002.


Reviewer: Anna McLauren L'Hommedieu, Colby College '02


Disputes between the UK and Argentina over the sovereignty of the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands have interfered with management of the fisheries off the coast of the islands. To further complicate matters, the Patagonia shelf, on which the Falkland Islands sit, extends from the coast of Argentina 600 miles into the Atlantic Ocean (Bethlehem 2002:2). Similar to problems with Canada's Grand Bank, the Patagonia shelf extends beyond Argentina's 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and thus creates straddling stocks of fish.  Such straddling stocks are defined as those that exist within and beyond Argentina's EEZ, as well as those that travel between Argentina's EEZ and the Falkland Island EEZ (Bethlehem 2002:3).  Since straddling stocks of fish cannot be fenced in by private property regimes such as EEZs, they remain to be one of the world’s last common property resources.  Without cooperative agreements in place, straddling stocks face the threat of being harvested to the point of extinction—a situation often referred to as the Tragedy of the Commons.


Of the numerous straddling stocks that reside on the Patagonia shelf, one particular species of squid has been found to be of great economic value. The Illex squid is a delicacy in East Asia and served in Spanish restaurants as calamares (Stanley 2002:65). Thus, its discovery has created a mutual interest on both Argentina and the Falkland's behalf in the conservation of this valuable resource.


In the past several decades, the sale of fishing licenses by the Falkland Islands for squid harvest has become a profitable business, accounting for a nearly half of the island's revenue, and allowing the island colony to become economically self sufficient from the UK (Bethlehem 2002:3).  Thus, overexploitation of the fisheries off its coast is an economic threat to the Falkland Island's independence (Bethlehem 2002:12).  In Argentina, the fishing industry has become an important export, even exceeding the high levels of beef production (Bethlehem 2002:13). Thus, depletion of the resource may threaten Argentina's economy as well.


As a straddling stock, the Illex migrates from the Argentine EEZ to the High Seas and then to the Falklands, before returning to Argentine waters (Bethlehem 2002:12).  Upon maturity, the squid migrates through the High Seas where it is extremely vulnerable to exploitation without any legal or political constraints (Bethlehem 2002:12).  In addition to the High Seas, the Illex also faces the threat of being over-harvested in either one of the two EEZs, given each country's incentive to act in their own economic self‑interest.  Since the life span of the Illex is one year, populations are at risk of being severely depleted in a relatively short period of time (Bethlehem 2002:12).


Although the 1982 Law of the Sea (LOS) Convention created EEZs that would give states sovereign rights to the 200 miles of ocean from their maritime baseline, the treaty did not enter into force until 1994 (Bethlehem 2002:9). The lack of an internationally binding agreement for the protection of fisheries allowed the UK to take matters into their own hands. On October 29, 1986, the British government declared a 150 nautical mile fishing conservation zone called the Falkland Inner Conservation Zone (FICZ) to protect squid populations (Bethlehem 2002:13).  The UK also imposed a limited fishing season that began January 1 and ended June 30, and made sure that those who purchased fishing licenses promised not to fish the High Seas (Bethlehem 2002:13).  Such licenses went to Chile, France, Greece, Honduras, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine (Bethlehem 2002: 13).  The creation of a licensing system successfully reduced the number of vessels in the area from 600 to 200 (Bethlehem 2002:13).


Meanwhile, in Argentina, in the course of a decade, the squid harvest had increased from 350,000 metric tons in 1981 to 692,000 metric tons in 1992 (Bethlehem 2002:13).  Yet such harvest levels were suggested to be highly unsustainable by a report published by an FAO Working Group in 1983 (Bethlehem 2002:13).  The report found that Argentine Illex stocks had been severely damaged due to overfishing on the entire Patagonia shelf (Bethlehem 2002:13). By 1989, high catches of the Illex squid on the High Seas also began to take their toll, and the Illex appeared to be in danger of a complete collapse (Bethlehem 2002:14).  The Falklands however, continued to prosper from the sale of licenses with total seasonal revenue increasing from 25 million pounds in 1990 to 41 million pounds in 1991 (Bethlehem 2002:13). Yet, overfishing on the Patagonia plate caught up to them as well, and in the 1992/93 season, revenue from licensing dropped to 13.7 million pounds (Bethlehem 2002:13), making the Falkland Island Government aware that both its fisheries and its economy were in grave danger.


Compromise between the two parties became critical.  According to Argentina, the 1986 FICZ was a violation of the General Assembly Resolution of 1979 because it allowed the Falklands to make unilateral modifications to their shared common-pool resource (Illex) (Bethlehem 2002:13). Fortunately, a joint statement in November 1990 between the UK and Argentine governments created a new zone called the Falklands Outer Conservation and Management Zone (FOCZ), and also created the South Atlantic Fisheries Commission (SAFC) (Bethlehem 2002:13). Although the agreement granted the Falkland Island Government the right to administer and regulate in the FOCZ, Argentina was entitled to manage its own vessels (Bethlehem 2002:13).


The SAFC was created to promote conservation and determine allocation quotas. Both the British Imperial College and the Argentine National Institute of Fishing Research and Development have become involved in conducting joint research (Bethlehem 2002:14). The SAFC's power is limited to quota recommendations for each country's jurisdiction, and has no means to regulate non‑member fishing of the High Seas (Bethlehem 2002:14).


Further conflict came in 1994, when LOS entered into force and EEZs became legally binding for all members who had ratified the convention.  On August 22, 1994, the Falkland Islands Government extended its EEZ into a territory previously referred to as 'the Gap' (Bethlehem 2002:13).  Since Argentina had yet to ratify LOS, it had no legal jurisdiction over the Gap, yet was frustrated by what they saw to be an action driven by the Falklands' own economic interest (Bethlehem 2002:14). According to the Falklands however, the action was merely a conservation measure to protect the Illex from further exploitation on the High Seas (Bethlehem 2002:14).


Once the Argentine government ratified LOS in 1995, it began to issue its own fishing licenses for the right to fish its EEZ (Bethlehem 2002:15).  Argentina proceeded to sell half‑price licenses to Japanese vessels and allowed them to fish for up to seven months, thus severely damaging the Illex stock (Bethlehem 2002:15).  This in turn forced the Falklands to close their season after only three months and suffer negative financial shocks to their economy as a result (Bethlehem 2002:15).  This serves as a good example of partial cooperation in which the Falklands acted in the best interest of society as a whole, whereas Argentina proceeded to maximize its own economic benefit.


Lacking full cooperation between the two parties, the future of the Illex began to look desperate.  Yet fortunately, by the seventh meeting of the SAFC, both parties were able to agree on enforced catch limits for the 1994/95 season (Bethlehem 2002:15).  Argentina agreed to limit its Illex catch to 220,000 metric tons and a maximum of 80 foreign vessels, whereas the Falklands set their enforceable limit at 150,00 metric tons (Bethlehem 2002:15).  A further compromise was reached in 1994, when both countries agreed to close their fishing seasons three months early to allow the stock to regenerate (Bethlehem 2002:15). In 2001 as well, due to greater understanding of the Illex as a highly migratory species made possible by joint scientific research, both parties opted to close their Illex fishing seasons early, once again to allow the squid time to grow (Stanley 2002:65).                       



With the SAFC's warning in November 1995 that Illex populations had dropped to dangerously low levels in the High Seas, the adoption of the United Nations Agreement on Straddling Stocks and Highly Migratory Species was welcomed by both parties (Bethlehem 2002:15).  The agreement created a framework for addressing the conservation of straddling stocks such as the Illex and according to Richard Cockwell, the Falkland Island Government's Councillor with responsibility for Fisheries, was the appropriate "machinery for dealing with the issue" (Councillor Cockwell's letter 2001). Further steps in the right direction came on July 14, 1999, when the UK and Argentina jointly announced that they were considering multilateral arrangements for the protection of High Seas territories visited by straddling stocks (Councillor Cockwell's letter 2001). The European Union has been engaged in discussion, yet the process of negotiations is expected to be slow and is nowhere near finished (Councillor Cockwell's letter 2001). 


Although cooperation in conservation efforts is in the best interest of both Argentina and the Falkland Islands, ongoing rivalry between Argentina and the UK has made joint action politically unfavorable.  Fortunately however, the shared economic interest that the Illex creates between the two parties has resulted in significant progress in the conservation of the stocks on the Patagonia plate.  Hopefully, the economic incentive to protect the shared resource will be large enough to encourage more collective action in the future.