European Union vessels operate outside European Union waters, and in third country waters, through the network of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPA) concluded by the European Union with Third Countries, particularly on the African continent, or, in their absence, by an access regime through means of a Private Fishing License, also known as 'Direct Fishing Authorizations'.

On the other hand, the activity of the Union fleet in international waters occurs in the context of the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), which are responsible for the adoption of conservation, management and control measures that affect the resources and areas managed.

Such is the case of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), among many others.

It has been recently published the Regulation (EU) 2017/2403 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2017, which regulates the activity of Union vessels in waters outside the EU.