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Unpublished Paper
Transnational Area-Based Ocean Management: Finding Avenues for Regulatory Harmonization
ExpressO (2015)
  • Xiao Recio-Blanco, Duke University

In the last few decades, governments have regulated human activities at sea and their environmental impact through piecemeal, use-by-use prescriptive regulation. These domestic laws have been unable to solve basic problems such as overfishing or marine habitat loss.

Some ocean management experts have argued that managing areas of the sea in order to maximize one or a set of objectives might be more effective than the non-spatial approach. Implementing a comprehensive system of area-based management requires planning and zoning. The process of marine spatial planning (MSP) involves assessing ocean resources as well as current and future uses; identifying compatible and incompatible sets of uses; and developing a spatial plan that proposes types and locations of various management areas. After the plan has been developed, the ocean zoning process translates the marine spatial plan into enforceable legal rules.

Proponents of area-based management face a basic jurisdiction dilemma: marine resources and environmental problems pay no heed to international boundaries. When the same marine region belongs to different nations, the lack of uniform jurisdiction can turn ineffective even the most carefully drafted marine plan. This problem has been confronted through several forms of international cooperation efforts. These initiatives have been ineffective, and they present a series of common challenges, such as lack of binding nature, or vulnerability to internal politics and managerial interpretations.

Seeking for alternatives to these cooperation approaches, this article finds a model on international treaties that establish maritime boundaries between nations (IMB treaties). These treaties are abundant and broadly complied with. Some already contain transboundary area-based management clauses, and many include clauses that pursue environmental conservation and/or coordinated exploitation objectives for the benefit of all signing parties. Despite being overlooked by most area-based management advocates, IMB treaties establish truly harmonized transboundary place-based regulations, and provide durable, enforceable rules for interconnected marine spaces that belong to different nations.

The article presents examples of more than twenty IMB treaties that contain area-based management principles, and suggests that IMB treaties should be used to implement legally-binding area-based management rules in marine boundary areas.

  • ocean,
  • ocean zoning,
  • marine spatial planning,
  • MSP,
  • international boundaries,
  • area-based,
  • joint development agreements,
  • collaborative clauses,
  • IMB treaties,
  • fisheries management,
  • ocean renewable energy
Publication Date
February 2, 2015
Citation Information
Xiao Recio-Blanco. "Transnational Area-Based Ocean Management: Finding Avenues for Regulatory Harmonization" ExpressO (2015)
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