Since agreement was reached in 1982 on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and particularly since the conclusion of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, the rate of development of global instruments impacting on fisheries has escalated considerably and is apparently continuing to do so. A flood of global and regional instruments relevant to fisheries has been generated, including, for example, the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora which pre–dates the UN Convention, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992 Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development, the 1993 FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas, the 1995 UN Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its four international plans of action and strategy, and the 2001 FAO Reykjavík Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem reflecting the growing international interest in ecosystem approaches to fisheries. Most recent has been the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development's Plan of Implementation. These instruments have been motivated by real problems associated with environmental degradation and living resource depletion, in several cases specifically in connection with fisheries. They have attempted to address these problems, and each instrument is recognized as being a positive contribution towards the sustainable use of resources and ecosystems. However, taken collectively they form a large, often confusing and potentially overwhelming set of recommendations and requirements that is putting many fishery management agencies under severe pressure as they seek to implement them. This paper provides a brief overview of the range of recent instruments and their implications for sustainable fisheries management, considers the progress being made in implementing them, identifies general problems being encountered and how they might be ameliorated in the future. A key problem is a lack of political will, or political ability, to address effectively the problems facing fisheries and marine ecosystems. One consequence of this is that the agencies charged with fisheries management are not provided with adequate technical and financial capacity to implement the instruments in most, if not all, countries. The problem is especially acute in developing countries where they are strained by the full effects of ‘instrument implementation fatigue’.