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The law of the sea relates to the allocation of jurisdiction and peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilisation of marine resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment. Historically concerned with the ‘freedom of the seas’ for sovereign states, the law of the sea must also address contemporary and emerging challenges such as climate change, marine species preservation, pollution, overlapping territorial claims and national security. The overarching legal regime of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is supplemented by specific agreements as well as market techniques and supply chain oversight. This subject provides an overview and critique of the established and newly forming international regimes – and their interaction – and is informed by an institutional approach that acknowledges the influence of dispute settlement systems, non-state participation and transnational and administrative practices. The lecturers have published widely on fisheries law, trade law, the law of the sea and on the interaction between international legal regimes.
Principal topics include:
- The Law of the Sea Convention and associated instruments governing the high seas, including the Fish Stocks Agreement
- Divisions of jurisdiction within the Law of the Sea, including key notions of the territorial sea, exclusive economic zones (EEZ), areas beyond national jurisdiction (high seas) and the sea-bed area
- Binding and voluntary instruments of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, including the Compliance Agreement, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Port State Measures Agreement, as well as emerging views on the ecosystem approach and marine protected areas
- The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling
- World Trade Organization (WTO) rules relating to subsidies, labelling and trade restrictions on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
- The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and other multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)
- Marine pollution, including microplastics and greenhouse gas emissions from bunker fuels
- Relevant dispute settlement bodies, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), arbitral bodies and the WTO.
Other topics may include:
- Marine protected areas, including efforts to create a new legally binding international agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ)
- Freedoms of the seas in contested areas of jurisdiction (such as Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise)
- Overlapping maritime claims such as the ruling on the South China Seas issued by an arbitral tribunal based at the Permanent Court of Arbitration
- The role of indigenous rights, subsistence and artisanal practices
- Selected regional approaches to fisheries management
- The influence of legal approaches to climate change, especially with respect to low-lying island coastal states.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have an advanced and integrated understanding of the law of the sea, including recent developments in this field of law and practice.
- Be able to critically examine, analyse, interpret and assess the effectiveness of these rules, including the Law of the Sea Convention and associated agreements, instruments of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, instruments from the International Maritime Organization, international trade law and international environmental law
- Be an engaged participant in debate regarding emerging and contemporary issues in the field, such as the equitable division of marine resources between coastal and non-coastal states, the use of unilateral trade measures to address illegal, unregulated and underreported (IUU) fishing, the use of labelling on marine products and the emergence of marine protected areas.
- Have a sophisticated appreciation of historical and contemporary perspectives relating to the exploration, utilization, exploitation and preservation of marine resources, including fish stocks and whales, and relevant theoretical and practical approaches, including with respect to commons-resource use and new governance.
- Have an advanced understanding of the global ecological, social and economic context of the law of the sea, including the scope and potential for interaction between relevant norms and institutions.
- Have a detailed understanding of the effectiveness, levels of compliance and enforcement of various approaches, including with reference to dispute settlement.
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to independently examine, research and analyse the range of international institutions relating to marine resource utilisation, sustainability and conservation with examples drawn from the United Nations, International Whaling Commission, regional fisheries management organisations and other bodies.
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to generate critical and creative ideas relating to the use of law in the management and conservation of marine species and resources.
- Have the communication skills to clearly articulate and convey complex information regarding selected issues of the law of the sea to relevant specialist and non-specialist audiences.
- Be able to demonstrate autonomy, expert judgment and responsibility as a practitioner and learner in the field of the law of the sea.
Last updated: 10 November 2023