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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).


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

Insights from the Bifurcation Order in the Ukraine vs. Russia Arbitration under Annex VII of UNCLOS

Published on September 6, 2018        Author:  and

By Procedural Order of 20 August 2018 (“Bifurcation Order”), the arbitral tribunal established under Part XV and Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the “Dispute Concerning Coastal State Rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and Kerch Strait (Ukraine v. the Russian Federation)” ordered a bifurcation of the proceedings so that Russia’s preliminary objections concerning the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction ratione materiae will be examined in a preliminary phase  prior to the merits (see also this statement by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs). This development brought with it some much needed transparency in the arbitration instituted by Ukraine against Russia on 16 September 2016, since the written submissions of both parties remain confidential. What appears from the public statements of Ukraine’s government (here and here), is that Ukraine is claiming that Russia violated Ukraine’s rights under UNCLOS with respect to Russian activities in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait, in particular, involving issues such as the seizure and exploitation of oil fields on Ukraine’s continental shelf, usurpation of fisheries jurisdiction off the coast of Crimea, issues of navigation through Kerch Strait, the construction of Kerch Bridge and related structures, and the conduct of studies of archeological and historical sites in the Black Sea.

The Bifurcation Order discusses (and cites from) a variety of the parties’ arguments concerning jurisdiction ratione materiae, several of which inevitably disclose some of the parties’ substantive positions. With respect to Russia’s request that the arbitral tribunal “adjudge and declare that it is without jurisdiction in respect of the dispute submitted to this Tribunal by Ukraine”, it should be recalled that, under Article 288(1) UNCLOS, the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction is limited to “any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of [UNCLOS]”. As Russia’s request to decline jurisdiction is not confined to specific issues or narrow questions of fact or law, it appears that Russia is challenging the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction in its entirety. The Bifurcation Order lists six separate preliminary objections. Read the rest of this entry…


Brexit and fisheries access – Some reflections on the UK’s denunciation of the 1964 London Fisheries Convention

Published on July 18, 2017        Author: 


On 2 July 2017 the government of the United Kingdom announced its intention to withdraw from the 1964 London Fisheries Convention (LFC). Plans to reshape the UK’s fisheries policy, including a 2017 Fisheries Bill, had already featured in the Queen’s speech on 21 June 2017. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the European Union has been unpopular with the UK’s fishing industry – and has been widely perceived as one where the UK may have more to gain than to lose by leaving the EU. The UK’s announcement has triggered mixed reactions. Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, tweeted that it made no difference for the negotiations. Not all EU Member States are, however, fond of the prospect that the UK might use reciprocal fisheries access as leverage in the Brexit negotiations or –in the worst case scenario– close its waters to foreign fishing. Denmark has reportedly built a case against the UK based on “historic fishing rights” dating back to the 1400s, which it claims it could bring before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) if negotiations fail. This post takes a closer look at the implications of the UK’s denunciation of the LFC for Brexit and the question of historic fishing rights.

Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Law of the Sea