U.S. ratification of UNCLOS necessary to control overfishing
U.S. ratification of UNCLOS will boost efforts to manage fishing populations in multiple ways. First, UNCLOS provides a clear legal framework for resolving disputes between countries over fishing rights, as for example the disputes between the U.S. and Canada. Secondly, becoming a party to UNCLOS gives the U.S. Coast Guard more legal tools to enforce existing regulations within the U.S. EEZ. Finally, by aceeding to UNCLOS the U.S. will be able to better lead on cooperative solutions to the global problem of overfishing.
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UNCLOS III provisions played a key role in the resolution of a major conflict in the Central Bering Sea in 1994. n285 The problem arose in the mid1980s, when the vessels of several nations began to fish a stock of pollack in an area of the Central Bering Sea just outside the U.S. and Russian 200mile EEZs. n286 The fish stock was largely associated with the U.S. zone and its fisheries.n287 The international fishery grew quickly, with the annual harvest soon reaching 1.5 million metric tons or more.n288 American fishermen increasingly called on the U.S. government to control international fishing in the Central Bering Sea, also known as the "Bering Sea Donut Hole."n289 By 1991, negotiations began among the nations that used the fishery: Russia, Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Poland, and the United States.n290 These nations debated over whether the United States and Russia had a special right to the stocks.n291 The result was the "Donut Hole Convention,"n292 which has been described as a "precautionary approach to stock management."n293 Ambassador Colson has argued that UNCLOS III did not hinder the Donut Hole agreement; in fact, "the Donut Hole Convention could not have been negotiated without the framework and foundation provided by the Law of the Sea Convention."n294 Among the requirements of the Donut Hole agreement is that fishing vessels must use realtime satellite positionfixing transmitters while in the Bering Sea so nations can ensure that vessels are there only to navigate to and from the fishing ground.n295 The agreement also provides for boarding and inspection of fishing vessels by any party, and it establishes procedures to "ensure that no fishing occurs in the Donut Hole except in accordance with sound conservation and management rules."n296 While the Donut Hole Convention was negotiated with UNCLOS III in mind,n297 according to Ambassador Colson, "the Law of the Sea Convention can help the Donut Hole Convention by providing an alternative enforcement mechanism to ensure than no vessel undertakes conduct in the Central Bering Sea contrary to the provisions of the Donut Hole Convention."n298 The dispute settlement provisions of UNCLOS III would enable the parties to "ensure enforcement of multilateral fishery conservation arrangements on the high seas ... The Law of the Sea dispute settlement option can act both as a deterrent and as a means to bring about final resolution should problems arise in the Donut Hole in the future."
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These agreements indicate the power that UNCLOS III has had over fishing law. Yet until major fishing nations such as the United States ratify the convention, it cannot reach its full potential. The United States will suffer if fisheries continue to decline. Although the United States played a major role in initiating the Convention in 1973, and despite backing from President Clinton and other officials, many predict the Senate to put up a tough fight before it approves the treaty if it ever does. Opposition in the United States is primarily focused on provisions involving deep seabed mining and navigation rights for naval and air forces. The United States historically has been particularly concerned about retaining its right of innocent passage for warships through international straits.
Until the United States becomes a party to the Convention, customary international law and other treaties will set U.S. rights and duties with respect to international fishing issues. The United States is already a party to several treaties by which it implements many of the convention's international fishing goals. A number of UNCLOS III's provisions have been incorporated into U.S. domestic law. The Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976 established the United States' fishing policies. "The original act gave the United States jurisdiction over fishing grounds within 200 miles of the American coastline." Reauthorized by Congress in 1997, the act now implements tough conservation provisions.
U.S. proponents of the Convention argue that the United States can only benefit from the UNCLOS III negotiations by ratifying the treaty. Specifically, the United States would be able to take advantage of the conservation and dispute settlement provisions, while also helping stabilize "the customary rules which states now argue do or do not exist." The United States' continued absence from the treaty may undermine U.S. power to influence the international law of the sea.