Managing marine resources under international law

Charlotte de Fontauber and Shannon Kearns

Since the inception of the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS, 1982), a series of international legal instruments have been negotiated and implemented that are of direct relevance to the management, and sustainable use, of marine resources. Most of these instruments are legally binding (e.g. the Convention on Biological Diversity or the UN Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks) while others are mere undertakings on the part of the states that have negotiated and adopted them (e.g. the FAO Code of Conduct). These instruments are far ranging and together constitute a mosaic under which a new international environmental regime is emerging. In parallel to this emerging global regime, a series of regional negotiations have allowed the members of particular regions to customize sub-regimes where their specificity and common interests are recognized. The South Pacific is a case in point, where the member states have achieved a number of significant outcomes, ranging from protection of the marine environment (with the establishment of the Nuclear-Free Zone) to management of high seas fisheries (with the negotiation of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty). International law therefore must be seen as a vehicle through which individual nation states can, and need to join their efforts, around a common agenda, and manage ecosystems as a whole to achieve sustainable development.

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