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Problems of Compulsory Jurisdiction and the Settlement of Disputes Relating to Straddling Fish Stocks

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image of The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law

Modern fisheries law has for some time recognised the special interest of coastal states in the management of adjacent high seas fisheries. It has been slower to acknowledge a comparable interest on the part of high seas fishing states in the conservation and management of EEZ stocks by coastal states. This imbalance of rights and obligations between these two groups of states continues to be reflected in the fisheries articles of the 1982 UNCLOS and in the 1995 Agreement on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. Much of the Law of the Sea Convention is about balancing the interests of different groups of states, and maintaining that balance is one of the reasons for adopting the principle of compulsory binding dispute settlement of disputes in Part XV of the Convention. Disputes about straddling fish stocks are necessarily disputes about the balance between coastal and high seas fishing states, and more generally, about the interest of the international community in sustainable management of stocks. Despite the significant changes which the 1995 Agreement makes to the substantive UNCLOS fisheries law, it remains far from clear that disputes concerning coastal state overfishing or inadequate management of straddling stocks within its own EEZ can be the subject of any form of binding process initiated by another fishing state or entity, even if there is a serious impact on the viability of stocks in other EEZs or on the high seas beyond national jurisdiction. But while coastal states and high seas states may have unequal rights and obligations with regard to fisheries access and management, they do have an equal interest in access to dispute settlement options. Both share a need for authoritative interpretation of difficult and complex texts; in both cases compulsory dispute settlement may be required in the event of failure to reach agreement on the management of shared access to straddling stocks. To hold that only coastal states have the right to compulsory binding settlement in such cases is to stabilise and protect one side of an equitable balance while leaving the other side vulnerable to erosion and instability. The question whether disputes concerning all or part of a straddling stock fall inside or outside compulsory jurisdiction is thus more than a technical question of treaty interpretation. It poses some fundamental questions about the nature of equitable utilisation as a legal principle governing use of common resources. Both in the interests of equitable access to justice, and the effective management and sustainable use of straddling stocks, compulsory jurisdiction should apply to all aspects of such a dispute. The rights of coastal states

Affiliations: 1: Public International Law, University of Edinburgh


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