Lifelines: Canada's East Coast Fisheries

Law Of The Sea – The Exclusive Economic Zone

B. Applebaum, BA LLM


The Lead-up to the EEZ

5. The articulation of the concept of freedom of the seas is generally attributed to a Dutch scholar, Hugo Grotius, and his book MARE LIBRUM, published in 1608.[5] The concept he expounded was that the oceans belonged to all States equally, to be used freely by ships of all States, without interference by other States, for the purposes for which the sea was used, primarily navigation and fishing. For self defence and coastal use purposes a territorial sea belt of 3-4 nautical miles was internationally accepted, based on the maximum cannon range of that period. This legal framework governed the relations between States in their use of the oceans for the next three and a half centuries.

6. The pressures for change that developed in the mid-20th century are generally identified as beginning with two United States presidential proclamations in 1945, the "Truman Proclamations", one dealing with the continental shelf and the other dealing with fisheries.[6] In the first the U.S. declared that it had the exclusive right to exploit the mineral and hydrocarbon resources lying on or under its continental shelf (the extent of the seaward reach of the continental shelf was left unclear.) In the second the U.S. stated its policy to develop internationally agreed conservation zones for fish stocks off its coasts and implied a custodial concept for itself as the coastal State.

7. The erosion of the concept of freedom of the seas developed rapidly from this point. Initially a few and later many countries claimed resource rights according to distance from shore, the maximum claims going out to 200 nautical miles.[7] There was increasing awareness that the resources of the oceans, living and non-living, that could be exploited for economic gain were concentrated in broad belts off coastal areas. Arguments were made that the living resources in these broad belts, whose shallow water habitats were in most areas over the continental shelves should, in some way, appertain to the adjacent coastal States similarly to what had been accepted for the minerals and hydrocarbons of the continental shelf. There was, at the same time, growing awareness that the living resources, though sustainable if properly managed, were, if not properly managed, as exhaustible as the subsea non-living resources. Further, there was a growing fear that they would become exhausted if the system of open access under the rule of freedom of the high seas continued.

8. Major changes had occurred since World War II in the technology of fishing. Gigantic factory-freezer trawlers had appeared in large numbers, using increasingly efficient sonar fish finders and fishing equipment, roaming the oceans often many thousands of miles from their home ports, and adding pressure on fish stocks to a degree never experienced before. World catches had increased steadily, but stock failures had also started to appear in areas of the world traditionally dependent on the living resources off their coasts. International fisheries management organizations which developed in the post-war years were increasingly perceived as ineffective for reducing catches to sustainable levels. There were two main causes: the competitive pressures between member States for high catch allocations for their vessels; and the unwillingness and inability of these States, with vessels thousands of miles away from their flag State enforcement authorities, to enforce such limits and rules as were agreed, while the vessel operators were concerned only to maximize their profits. Developed coastal States were increasingly troubled, foreseeing impoverishment of their coastal communities. Developing coastal States had even greater concerns, foreseeing not only the loss of traditional food supplies but also any hope of future wealth from catches and exports of resources off their own coasts.

9. Inevitably coastal States, developed and developing, came to believe that it was unreasonable to stand by and watch the living wealth of the ocean areas off their doorsteps consumed and destroyed by fishing fleets from other countries. It seemed much more reasonable that, first of all, coastal States should have sole control over all fisheries off their coasts for the purpose of conservation and management; and secondly, that the economic benefits from the living resources off their coasts should flow to their coastal populations. The result, it was argued, would benefit the world through the maintenance of a stable animal protein supply.

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