A New Approach to an Old Problem: Managing Fish Resources in the Beaufort Sea

By Epstein, Andrew | Chicago Journal of International Law, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

A New Approach to an Old Problem: Managing Fish Resources in the Beaufort Sea


Epstein, Andrew, Chicago Journal of International Law


Abstract

As the Arctic Sea ice continues its precipitous retreat, the receding waters lure advancing commercial activity into previously inaccessible northern climates. The Arctic's increasingly ice-free waters are spurring a geopolitical race to claim (or to preserve) the Arctic's natural living resources because there is a potentially limited number of fish.

At this moment, the uncertain legal status of the Beaufort Sea presents the United States, Canada, and other nations with a unique opportunity for proactive management of the Arctic Ocean's fish resources. The territorial dispute between the US and Canada concerns their shared maritime boundary in the Beaufort Sea. A 6,250 nautical mile overlap between the two nations' exclusive economic zones consists of exploitable fishing resources.

By utilizing a comparative analysis of the joint management approach implemented by Russia and Norway in the Svalbard Zone, this Comment seeks to bring about a sustainable management plan in the Beaufort Sea. It first analyses the tragedy of the commons as it applies to open-sea fisheries. It then reflects on how the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides the relevant legal mechanism for resolving an international dispute concerning ocean resources. This Comment acknowledges that several commentators have suggested that this device is not suited to manage the Arctic's ecological conditions nor does it successfully remedy either nation's territorial claims. Other commentators have denigrated a cooperative model by claiming that successful resource use and conservation requires single-state management within well-defined jurisdictions.

Rather than delimiting each nation's territory in an inherently unsatisfactory method, this Comment posits that application of the Convention's overarching principle of conservation could yield a satisfactory accord between the US and Canada concerning fish resources. But in order to achieve such a result, the US and Canada must undertake four tasks: (1) sharing research, (2) developing a common understanding of the issues, (3) pursuing a course of indirect coercion, and (4) bringing about voluntary participation.

"Why should we allow the sterile goals of the nation-state to define the future of the North? National sovereignty is a limited and limiting concept. Beyond sovereignty lies stewardship. Sovereignty is a national issue, stewardship an international issue. Surely the Arctic is a place where we ought to attempt to transcend the particularities of our [commercial and political system]." '

I. INTRODUCTION

In the summer of 2007, the Arctic Ocean's ice cover melted by more than one million square miles. To put this in perspective, one million square miles is equivalent to four times the size of Texas. This type of occurrence will continue without abatement for the foreseeable future unless swift and dramatic action is taken to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.' In a doomsday scenario, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - comprised of 2,500 of the world's most prominent climate scientists, economists, and risk analysts - predicts that the region could be free of summer ice by 2040.4

As Arctic Sea ice continues its precipitous retreat, the receding waters lure advancing commercial activity into previously inaccessible northern climates.5 The Arctic's increasingly ice-free waters are prompting a geopolitical race to claim (or to preserve) the Arctic's natural living resources because there is a potentially limited number of fish.6 For much of human history, ocean resources, a paradigm for common-property resources,7 have been harvested for short-term gain with little concern for long-term consequences. Resource conservation, especially of ocean resources, is typically a reactive exercise to identified threats.8

At this moment, the uncertain legal status of the Beaufort Sea presents the United States, Canada, and other nations with a unique opportunity for proactive management of the Arctic Ocean's fish resources. …

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