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Ocean Law Bulletins

Human rights abuses and poor working conditions in the offshore fishing industry call for fundamental changes in international, regional and national governance

Jan 10, 2019 / by Francisco Blaha and James Sloan posted in Oceans Law, human rights at sea, Flags of convenience, Labour standards at sea, human rights abuses at sea, UNCLOS, Sovereignty, ILO Convention c188, Crewing conditions on Commercial Fishing vessels, Forum Fisheries Agency, fisheries law, Law of the Sea Convention, Pacific Island Rights, UN Oceans, Oceans Governance, Pacific Ocean, Tuna fisheries, WCPFC

The international awareness of inequitable and often inhumane working conditions in the offshore fishing industry has increased in recent years.

Unfortunately, it has reached a point where offshore fishing is an industry that has become synonymous with poor working conditions and human rights abuses when compared with other ocean industries like shipping. This is because the activity of fishing itself takes place outside of the legal jurisdiction of any nation State, on the “high seas” and within EEZs where no State has sovereignty to make and enforce laws. In effect it is an industry where bad players can get away with being unregulated and through the regime of flag State registration effectively claim "immunity" from legal oversight in relation to working conditions. This is not to say all offshore fishing vessel operators are bad players but those fishing vessel operators who do want to comply with good employment standards do not compete on a "level playing field".

The awareness raised by civil society organisations (CSOs) and stakeholders has led to various recent developments, including the development of a specific International Labour Organisation Convention (“ILO”) (Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188)) (“C-188”). C-188 entered into force in November 2017.

Six months ago, in Cape Town, South Africa, the provisions of C-188 were brought to bear by South African authorities against a foreign owned fishing vessel (a link to ILO’s report on this story can be found here).

The problem of unregulated labour standards in offshore fishing exists because some flag States who do have the legal jurisdiction to enforce labour standards on vessels on the high seas that are registered to that flag State lack the ability or willingness to regulate offshore fishing vessels that "fly their flag". Effective and universal flag State regulation is an issue of oceans governance and this is same issue that underpins Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (“IUU”) fishing on the high seas and within coastal States’ EEZs. Solving this ocean governance issue in the fishing industry would likely lead to direct benefits for Pacific Island States both because employment opportunities would improve for Pacific Islanders and because those fishing vessels that are well regulated are more likely to comply with conservation and management measures put in place to protect the Pacific’s essential fish stocks.

In this extended legal bulletin we summarise the international law problem of unregulated labour standards in the offshore fishing industry and consider recent efforts that provide steps in the right direction to bring an end to a shameful problem that should no longer be tolerated in the 21st century. After all, as things stand, on the high seas (areas beyond national jurisdiction) the transportation of slaves by sea is an international crime and is regulated by the law of the sea framework. Contrast this with forced/slave labour and human rights abuses on people “employed” on fishing vessels in the same areas of ocean, and who fall outside any effective regulatory law of the sea framework and as a consequence find themselves outside the reach and protection of the law. To change this may require an overdue shift in general international consensus to amend the current law of the sea and governance framework. 

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Marine Pollution from fishing vessels in the Pacific Ocean - what is the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission doing about it?

Nov 5, 2018 / by Viv Fernandes posted in Oceans Law, Pacific, UNCLOS, International Law, Commercial fishing, Marine Conservation, Forum Fisheries Agency, fisheries law, marine pollution from shipping, Pacific Island Rights, Marine Pollution, Oceans Governance, Pacific Ocean, Tuna fisheries, WCPFC, Marine pollution from commercial fishing vessels

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) emerged as result of the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) that, amongst other things, requires regional cooperation to promote the conservation and management of shared fisheries resources.

WCPFC determines, advises on and implements many of the regional management mechanisms required by international law with the aim of securing cooperation between States to better protect, conserve and manage the Pacific’s vitally important fisheries. This role focuses on the conservation and management of the valuable, shared and highly migratory tuna (and similar fish) resources of the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) that are under threat from many sources, not least, marine pollution.

Tackling marine pollution is challenging because of its many sources, most of which cannot be regulated by the WCPFC, and while pollution from shipping is regulated, pollution from or created by fishing vessels has been largely overlooked. In this legal bulletin we consider how the WCPFC is addressing the pressing and important issue of marine pollution created by fishing vessels plying their trade in the Western Pacific. For more information on the issue of marine pollution from fishing vessels please see this report from SPREP: here or Fisheries Consultant, Francisco Blaha's blog on the topic: here

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Seabed Mining in the Pacific Ocean: To mine or not to mine?  Exploring the legal rights and implications for Pacific Island Countries

Oct 4, 2018 / by James Sloan posted in Oceans Law, Sovereignty, Environmental Impact Assessments, Fiji commercial lawyers, Law of the Sea Convention, Pacific Blue Economy, Blue Economy, Pacific Island Rights, Large Ocean States, UN Oceans, Seabed Mining, Oceans Governance, Deep Seabed Mining, Pacific Ocean, Precautionary Principle

Although not yet an operational industry, seabed mining is a trending topic in the Pacific. This is because the exploration of the seabed beneath the Pacific ocean is revealing or has revealed potential mine sites for valuable minerals that are in global demand particularly for new technologies.

Proponents of seabed mining suggest, amongst other things, that mining of seabed minerals will ease demand for, and have less negative social impact than, terrestrial mining, will assist in the development of new greener technologies, and will provide economic benefits to those who participate in the mining ventures. Those who oppose seabed mining question, amongst other things, the potential environmental effects of or from the activity of seabed mining, the resultant damage to other uses or users of the ocean, whether developing nations will benefit from the mining ventures, and whether it will, in fact, ease pressure on terrestrial mining.

This legal bulletin considers the international legal framework of seabed mining and how it is regulated or intended to be regulated. This legal framework is important for Pacific Island Countries (PICs) because the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) has granted to PICs sovereignty or exclusive sovereign rights to extract (explore and exploit) resources from the seabed within vast ocean areas. The legal framework may assist PICs as they decide how to balance potential adverse environmental impacts of seabed mining against the value of their exclusive rights to, and benefits from, other living resources within the oceans.

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Marine Pollution in the Pacific Ocean - The International Legal Framework - how it works and its challenges for Pacific Island Countries

Sep 16, 2018 / by James Sloan posted in Marine Conservation, Forum Fisheries Agency, Environmental Impact Assessments, fisheries law, marine pollution from shipping, Fiji Environmental law, Law of the Sea Convention, Sovereign Rights, Integrated Oceans Management Pacific, Marine Spatial Planning Pacific, Pacific Ocean Rights, Blue Economy, Raising Pacific Voices, Pacific Island Rights, Large Ocean States, Marine Pollution, UN Oceans

Pollution of the oceans and marine environment is an important issue for Pacific Island Countries (PICs) because it damages natural resources, reduces the economic value of PICs' legal rights to those resources, and negatively impacts fishing communities as well as income generating activities like tourism.

A significant challenge is that marine pollution comes from many sources and most of those sources are land based, including but not limited to, careless discard of plastics. For more information on plastic pollution in the Pacific ocean please see here

This legal bulletin examines the overall international legal framework for the protection and preservation of the marine environment set out in the the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) and suggests other actions that PICs, regional organisations, and CSOs may take in accordance with LOSC to address marine pollution in the Pacific ocean.

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Pacific Ocean Legal Rights: The implications for a Pacific Blue Economy, the importance of Integrated Oceans Management and the vital role of Civil Society Organisations

Sep 5, 2018 / by James Sloan posted in Oceans Law, UNCLOS, International Law, Maritime boundaries, Sovereignty, Integrated Oceans Management Policy, Law of the Sea Convention, Sovereign Rights, Integrated Oceans Management Pacific, Marine Spatial Planning Pacific, Pacific Ocean Rights, traditional rights, Pacific Blue Economy, Blue Economy, Raising Pacific Voices, Oxfam in the Pacific, Pacific Island Rights, Large Ocean States

Pacific Island Countries (PICs) have legal rights to and within enormous ocean areas. These legal rights are, to a large extent, provided by operation of international law and are codified in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC).

The LOSC is often referred to as a “Constitution for the Oceans” because, amongst other things, it sets out and regulates the recognised legal rights that the international community agree that all nations have on or in the ocean to undertake or benefit from various activities that include but are not limited to navigation, fishing and other extractive industry. The LOSC also allocates the legal rights to PICs over and within ocean “zones” that includes the large Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). However, fisheries and marine scientists suggest that the sustainable use and management of the PICs’ valuable marine resources can only be achieved by Integrated Oceans Management based on eco-systems and not ocean zones.

In this legal bulletin we set out why the Pacific Island Countries have sufficient legal rights to build and implement effective oceans integrated management systems to support the development of their national and regional blue economies in a way that best suits them and based on an ecosystems approach. However, to meet good governance outcomes (successful, equitable, sustainable) those management systems must be suited to the context of PICs which means that the collective process to create those systems must be inclusive, practical and carefully undertaken.

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Fiji Marine Pollution Law Series - legal consequences of littering and failing to dispose of consumer waste responsibly

Jul 10, 2018 / by James Sloan and Emily Samuela posted in Oceans Law, Fiji mangroves, Fiji fisheries, Marine Conservation, Fiji Oceans, Environmental governance, Fiji lawyers, Fiji marine pollution law, Fiji Environmental law

The largest ocean on earth is also home to the largest collection of floating rubbish/garbage which scientists have coined "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch".

The statistics about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch provide terrifying reading and are summarised by the National Geographic in a recent online article that can be found here. The article explains that the floating garbage weighs 79,000 tonnes and is predominantly plastics originating from both land based (80%) and ocean based activities (20%), includes discarded fishing gear, waste from the 2011 Japanese Tsunami and perhaps most worryingly contains an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic of which microplastics comprise 94%.

One of the solutions to this horrendous human made problem is for each country to regulate and control littering and the failure to responsibly dispose of household and consumer waste. In this 3rd legal bulletin in this Fiji Marine Pollution Law Series, we consider Fiji's legal framework to regulate and control littering.

While outside the scope of this legal bulletin we acknowledge that:

  • other regulatory and innovative solutions must be found globally to reduce or eliminate the use of plastics and find other more environmentally friendly consumer packaging
  • Pacific Islands are not the main cause of this global issue
  • Responsible consumer choices and manufacturing choices are required
  • Fiji has started using innovative mechanisms to discourage the use of plastics like introducing a charge for single use plastic bags.
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Fiji Marine Pollution Law Series - industrial pollution

Jul 9, 2018 / by James Sloan and Emily Samuela posted in Oceans Law, Fiji mangroves, Environmental Management Act 2005, Marine Conservation, Fiji Oceans, The Environment Management Act, Fiji's Constitution, Environmental governance, Fiji law, Nearshore Fiji fisheries, Fiji lawyers, Fiji marine pollution law, Fiji Environmental law

The major threats to our oceans are well understood, and include pollution from land based sources.

For a full list of the major threats to our oceans the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) sets them out here and also explains that:

Untreated sewage, garbage, fertilizers, pesticides, industrial chemicals, plastics ... most of the pollutants on land eventually make their way into the ocean, either deliberately dumped there or entering from water run-off and the atmosphere. Not surprisingly, this pollution is harming the entire marine food chain - all the way up to humans.

In this second legal bulletin in the Fiji Marine Pollution Law Series, we consider Fiji’s legal and regulatory framework in relation to marine pollution from land based industrial or commercial activities. For those interested in this area, it should be noted that Mr Filimone Tuivanualevu who is admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of Fiji, has also published a legal bulletin entitled "How does the law protect rivers in Fiji from pollution?" which can be found here.

In further planned legal bulletins in this series we will consider Fiji's laws in relation to marine pollution from household waste and the potential civil liability that polluters who cause harm may incur based on common law negligence.

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Fiji Marine Pollution Law Series - Pollution from Ships

Jul 6, 2018 / by Emily Samuela posted in Fiji Oceans, Fiji pollution law, Fiji marine pollution law, Fiji shipping, marine pollution from shipping

Pollution in our oceans is a major cause for concern as it damages the marine environment that we depend on.

Sources of marine pollution are diverse and include pollution from:

  • Ships
  • Land-based activities such as industrial, agricultural and household wastes
  • Overuse of plastics and their careless disposal
  • Dumping of wastes at sea, and
  • Off-shore activities such as deep sea mining - the effects of which seem to be unknown at this point in time.

In the Pacific region, the shipping industry is a vital means of transportation and trade. However, pollution from the shipping industry in Fiji has recently become a trending topic as pictures surfaced on social media showing a ship engaged in deliberately pumping of oil into the Suva harbour. This story was covered in Fiji's press including in this Fiji Times article

About the Fiji Marine Pollution Law Series

In this bulletin we consider Fiji’s national laws and the relevant criminal offences in relation to different types of marine pollution from ships. We note but do not consider in this bulletin the additional International laws that prohibit dumping of waste and other hazardous materials at sea and also regulate oil spillages from ships and other vessels. 

In further legal bulletins as part of the Fiji Marine Pollution Law Series we will consider the law in relation to marine pollution arising from:

  • Industrial sources; and
  • Household waste
We will also consider in a further legal bulletin the high duty of care that polluters may owe to those who suffer damage as a result of marine pollution and hence the potential civil liability of polluters in the common law of negligence and nuisance. This is a separate and cross cutting legal question because in common law jurisdictions like Fiji the polluter owes a high duty of care to avoid causing likely harm to others regardless of whether the polluter is a ship, industrial facility, commercial entity or individual.
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Fiji fisheries law: Could improved regulation of minimum size limits lead to more sustainable fisheries and bigger fish in nearshore and coastal waters?

May 2, 2018 / by Emily Samuela and James Sloan posted in Oceans Law, Fisheries Act, Commercial fishing, Traditional fishing rights, Inshore fisheries, Fiji Oceans, fisheries management, Illegal fishing in Fiji's nearshore waters, Fiji Fisheries decision making, fisheries law, minimum fish sizes

The sustainable management of Fiji’s coastal fisheries is vital for national well-being and food security. One intuitive solution to improve nearshore and coastal fisheries is to enable fish to reach sufficient maturity so they have had the chance to breed before they are caught - in other words the adoption and enforcement of suitable minimum size limits.

The Fisheries Act, 1941 and Fisheries Regulations, at present, regulate nearshore fisheries using various mechanisms that include how fish may be caught, licensing and minimum fish sizes. However, recent work by fisheries scientists in Fiji suggest that the Regulations are out of date and not fit for purpose in the Fiji context. Fisheries scientists suggest that at present too many coastal and nearshore fish are being caught before they reach maturity and this is one reason that is contributing to a decline in Fiji's coastal and nearshore fish stocks.

In this bulletin, we consider the current law on fish sizes and the work being undertaken by fisheries scientists and the Ministry of Fisheries to address the question of what minimum sizes of fish should be caught in its coastal and nearshore waters.

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Fiji has amended the Charitable Trusts Act to include "conservation" and rural electrification projects as a charitable purpose

Mar 22, 2018 / by Emily Samuela and James Sloan posted in Environmental governance, Fiji law, Fiji tax law, Fiji Charitable Trusts Act, Incorporation of not for profit

Under Fiji law, the Charitable Trusts Act, 1945 (Charitable Trusts Act) provides the legal process to incorporate (establish) a charitable trust. The incorporation of a charitable trust creates a legal "person" that may amongst other things: employ people, hold a bank account, secure office premises, enter contracts and sue and be sued.

To comply with section 2 of the Charitable Trusts Act, the proposed charitable trust must comply with one of the limited number of "charitable purpose[s]" set out in the Charitable Trusts Act. On Wednesday, 7 March 2018 by Legal Notice No. 14, the relevant Minister in exercise of his powers under the Charitable Trusts Act expanded the categories of "charitable purpose" to include:

· the conservation of the environment; and

· the provision of electricity to rural communities and households in Fiji that do not have such access.

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