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Schwerpunkt: Responsible Maritime Governance ∙ A New Regime Established for Regulating Fisheries in the Arctic

Erik Franckx


The Central Arctic Ocean, i.e. that part of the water areas surrounding the North Pole beyond the exclusive economic zones of the five Arctic rim countries, is about to become the first ocean on the globe where commercial fisheries will be prohibited awaiting scientific evidence that such activities can be undertaken in a sustainable manner. The fact that prevailing ice conditions have in the past simply prevented any fishing activities to be conducted in the area, and probably will continue to do so in the short and medium term, helps to explain this differential treatment when compared to the other oceans where it was rather the depletion of stocks that finally urged States to start curbing their fishing efforts on the high seas in order to arrive at a sustainable level allowing the continuation of their activities as to the future. Starting from the early seal and whaling conventions concluded during the late 19th and early 20th century, the international community slowly came to realize that fish resources are not inexhaustible as it was generally believed to be the case for most, if not all commercially exploited species on the high seas until the end of the 19th century.
The present contribution first takes a closer look at the peculiar manner in which this process to protect the Central Arctic Ocean has taken shape in practice. It subsequently highlights some of the provisions finally arrived at in order to better understand the way in which this highly unusual international legally binding document intends to shape the future of capture fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. The conclusion will be reached that the legal regime of the Arctic, like that of any other ocean, is firmly rooted in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and that fishery activities do not form an exception to that rule. In the near future it will therefore rather appertain to the five rim countries facing the Arctic Ocean to deal with the temperature driven northern movement of fish when these resources start to enter their respective exclusive economic zones in greater numbers.

The author is full-time research professor, President of Center for International Law, Faculty of Law and Criminology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (V.U.B.). He serves at present as the President of the Belgian Society of International Law (since 2017). He holds moreover teaching assignments at Université Libre de Bruxelles; Brussels School of International Studies (University of Kent); Institute of European Studies (V.U.B.); Université Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and the University of Akureyri, Iceland.
This paper is an updated and slightly expanded version of an earlier paper that was based on an oral contribution by the author, held on 3 September 2018, at the occasion of a conference organized under the auspices of the Belgian Society of International Law, entitled “Arctic and Antarctic Regions: New Challenges for Ocean Governance”, and of which the proceedings were published in the Belgian Review of International Law, Number 2018/2. The author wishes to express his gratitude to the editors of the latter journal for having granted him permission to build further on that article. The author further gave a presentation on that topic at the Hamburg International Environmental Law Conference (HIELC) 2019.

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