Oceans Governance is a 3rd year undergraduate course offered by the School of Marine Studies, within the University of the South Pacific (USP).
Oceans Governance attracts a number of motivated students from a variety of Pacific Island Countries who frequently bring years of professional work experience to compliment their future careers as marine managers and decision makers. Oceans Governance complements the 2nd year undergraduate course in “Law of the Sea”. Both courses are designed by the highly regarded law of the sea and fisheries legal expert, Mr Pio Manoa who is currently working with the Forum Fisheries Agency.
While our firm has been privileged to coordinate and teach Oceans Governance and Law of the Sea for the last 3 years - to reflect the multi-disciplinary nature and broad topic that is Oceans Governance - a variety of guest lecturers have complimented the course. As well as adding interest and providing inspirational talks for the students this demonstrates the depth of knowledge and expertise in the Pacific. In this brief overview of the course we draw specific attention to the expertise of the visiting lecturers and the efforts made by the talented students of USP and how we think this bodes well for the Pacific region in the future.
In accordance with the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) Pacific Island Countries (PICs) have the use and management rights to the resources within and under huge areas of Pacific ocean. These rights include the exclusive sovereign rights to use and manage all of the resources in these ocean spaces and on and under the seabed. However, there remains disagreement between some PICs over where the maritime boundaries should be drawn as well as a lack of a unified position in relation to how the resources should be exploited.
As the world goes through unprecedented change due to the Covid-19 pandemic, renewed cooperation among PICs is more important than ever to secure better governance, more effective fisheries management and more benefits from the resources flowing back to Pacific Islanders.
Dr Transform Aqorau has recently published an insightful article that explains some of the resilience more Pacific based tuna operations are experiencing in the face of Covid-19. This is available here.
In this legal bulletin we set out an explanation of the law and governance context that we hope explains why and how more regional cooperation to implement a shared plan with more transparency at regional and national levels will benefit Pacific Islanders.
Fish stocks around the world are in decline with a large proportion of this decline attributable to the widespread practice of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Declining fish stocks result in increased fishing efforts to make up the shortfall of catches and this often leaves fishing vessels operating beyond economic and ecological sustainability. Subsidized fishing fleets often backed by national governments are one way to skirt this economic inconvenience.
Tragically, another alternative is cost-cutting on the human side of commercial fishing. This results in poor working conditions for fishing crew, forced labour, slavery and even human trafficking. This forms a hidden subsidy of sorts for IUU fishing that impacts those directly responsible for catching fish and tainting the seafood that is supplied globally. The Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) which was established with the mandate to assist Pacific Island Countries manage their fishery resources is taking measures to address this oft-neglected aspect of fisheries.
FFA members lay claim to some of the richest tuna stocks globally. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states have sovereign rights to manage their 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This means that the right to issue licences and on what terms and conditions lies with these states and within their EEZ. In this legal bulletin we consider how the FFA is implementing a decision of its members to use licence conditions to better regulate working conditions on fishing vessels that operate in its waters.
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
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.
In a previously published legal bulletin we discussed Biodiversity on the high seas, and the increasingly recognized need for an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) to regulate biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). Recently, progress towards the ILBI came in the way of the third session of the preparatory committee on Marine Biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (PrepCom 3).
PrepCom 3 was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York from March 27 to April 7. I had the good fortune to observe proceedings as an observer through an invite from a New York City based non-profit that supports small islands developing states permanent missions to the UN in oceans and climate change negotiations.
In this bulletin, we set out how PrepCom 3 fleshed out discussions on what the main elements of the treaty would be. This included inter alia, Marine Genetic Resources, Area-Based Management Tools, Environmental Impact Assessments, Capacity Building and Technology Transfer. These substantive areas of discussion form what will be the core elements of the treaty body and address some of the primary issues faced with respect to high seas regulation and management (or lack thereof). The lack of any cohesive form of regulation on the high seas means that these parts of the ocean are often subject to unchecked resource exploitation. Coming to a consensus on how this treaty is framed and articulated is one of the first steps towards an ILBI.
Climate change and its impacts are one of the greatest environmental problems of today and its effects include, inter alia, changing climate patterns, warming ocean temperatures, melting glaciers and ice caps, and sea level rise. These impacts while felt globally are disproportionately distributed. Low lying island States are particularly vulnerable with Pacific Islands like the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati facing uncertain futures because of the very real threat of sea level rise submerging their land territory (inundation). As well as the threatened loss of their homes, extinction of their cultures and the unwelcome prospect of becoming climate change refugees, they also face the consequence of losing their rights of sovereignty in International law.
In this piece we examine the unresolved question of whether States threatened with inundation may also lose their claim to their maritime zones and associated legal rights. We consider whether the international climate change regime has provisions that address this threat and briefly look at the limited opportunities for recourse under the present system and suggest an amendment to UNCLOS may be necessary to guarantee the rights of States threatened with the terrifying prospect of inundation.
Areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) includes the High Seas, which accounts for approximately 64% of the world’s ocean, and the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction. In the High Seas no State has jurisdiction, meaning individual States have no management rights, and activities in this area with respect to marine biodiversity remain largely unregulated.
While there are some regional management plans that exist on the High Seas, these are often restricted to certain species or industries and ultimately result in an ad hoc and overall, poorly managed ocean. Overexploitation of fish stocks, increasing marine pollution, and habitat destruction, together with the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification mean that now more than ever there is an urgent need to protect larger expanses of the ocean particularly the High Seas.
In this bulletin we look at the efforts of the international community through the United Nations, as it attempts to regulate the High Seas through international law mechanisms.