- July 2014
- 33 Stan.Envtl.L.J. 289
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and its 1995 implementing agreement for highly migratory and straddling fish stocks (the UN Fish Stocks Agreement) articulate the need for conservation of high seas marine living resources and precautionary ecosystem-based management. Unfortunately, the underlying historical paradigm in the high seas is the "right to fish," without adhering to the broader conservation and environmental obligations on which those rights depend. The institutions that manage high seas living resources are largely limited to regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), comprised of state members with a direct economic interest in the fishery and largely applying single species approaches to management. As a result, these RFMOs have largely failed to meet the larger mandates under the United Nations and even their own Conventions. In contrast, the 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR Convention) mandates the conservation of the marine ecosystem. Given the new stressors of the twenty-first century and swiftness with which the global ocean is changing due to climate change and other human impacts, Best Practice Guidelines for RFMOs urge fisheries institutions to have mechanisms to respond to extreme environmental or other unpredictable events. Marine protected areas (MPAs) remain an effective tool for managing marine living resources and can help safeguard marine ecosystems in an uncertain future. Yet their application on the high seas has been limited thus far, with even CCAMLR struggling to adopt measures. Here we offer potential reforms that will enable RFMOs to better address the environmental and biodiversity directives of the UN agreements, and further explore avenues for reframing the "right to fish" in the twenty-first century.