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The 2018 Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean: A Primer

Published on October 26, 2018        Author: , and

On 3 October 2018, the five Arctic Ocean coastal States (Canada, Denmark (acting on behalf of Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Norway, Russia, and the United States – the ‘A5’) together with China, the European Union (EU), Iceland, Japan, and South Korea (which together with the A5 form the so-called ‘A5+5’) signed the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean (CAOF Agreement or CAOFA) in Ilulissat, Greenland. In this post, we provide a brief introduction to the CAOFA, highlighting a number of salient issues which we discuss in much greater detail in a forthcoming article (V.J. Schatz, A. Proelss & N. Liu, The Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean: A Critical Analysis (2019) International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law).

Background

The CAOFA’s raison d’être is summarized in the preamble of the Agreement:

Recognizing that until recently ice has generally covered the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean on a year-round basis, which has made fishing in those waters impossible, but that ice coverage in that area has diminished in recent years;

Acknowledging that, while the central Arctic Ocean ecosystems have been relatively unexposed to human activities, those ecosystems are changing due to climate change and other phenomena, and that the effects of these changes are not well understood; […]

Believing that commercial fishing is unlikely to become viable in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean in the near future […]

In line with what the preamble states, the objective of the CAOFA is:

to prevent unregulated fishing in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean through the application of precautionary conservation and management measures as part of a long-term strategy to safeguard healthy marine ecosystems and to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fish stocks (Article 2).

Indeed, the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean (CAO) has previously not been subject to a comprehensive regional fisheries agreement. As shown on the map below (own copyright), only the southern tip of the CAO falls within the Convention Area of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). Other relevant regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and arrangements (RFMAs) lack either a geographical or substantive mandate for comprehensive fisheries regulation in the CAO. On the other hand, the global legal regime for high seas fisheries applies to the CAO. The A5 admitted as much in their 2008 Ilulissat Declaration by expressing support for the existing global framework provided by “the law of the sea [as] a solid foundation for responsible management by the five coastal States”. The most important global instruments, which are also expressly referred to in the CAOFA’s preamble, are the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) and the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Law of the Sea