California Sea Grant College Program
The Legal Status of Highly Migratory Species, 1970-2000: A Case Study of Debate and Innovation in International Fisheries Law
- Author(s): Carr, Christopher J.
- et al.
Disputes over tuna have highlighted international fisheries affairs since World War II. The underlying legal and policy question has been whether tuna should be subject to exclusive coastal state jurisdiction, or, instead, subject to multilaterally agreed measures that apply throughout their migratory range. The "juridical position" of the United States on this question-in both domestic law and international practice-has played a major role in this history. Until 1990, the United States maintained, consistent with the interests of the U.S. distant water tuna industry and traditional "freedom of the seas" principles, that tuna should not be subject to exclusive coastal state jurisdiction. To this day, the United States has insisted that tuna fishing be subject to measures prescribed by international and regional organizations that are applied consistently to the species throughout its range, both within and beyond exclusive economic zones. The U.S. juridical position was reflected in disputes between the United States and Latin American countries over tuna fishing in the 1950s and 1960s, the failure of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (1970 to 1982) to definitively resolve tuna issues, and controversies over tuna fishing, most notably in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1990, the United States finally reversed position and accepted exclusive coastal state jurisdiction over tuna. Then, the 1995 U.N. Fish Stocks Agreement went beyond the duty to "cooperate" of coastal and fishing states declared in the Law of the Sea Convention, to prescribe that tuna conservation and management measures for exclusive economic zones and adjacent high seas areas be compatible and consistent. In 2000, these principles were implemented in the creation of a multilateral organization for tuna conservation and management in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Because of the critical role that the United States, and its juridical position, played in these developments, this study analyzes the key episodes in U.S. foreign relations and domestic lawmaking with respect to tuna fisheries.