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Friday, December 21, 2012

U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea: Living Resources Provisions

Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was agreed to in 1982, but the United States never became a signatory nation. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported UNCLOS on December 19, 2007. The Senate may choose to address the ambiguities of UNCLOS with its power to make declarations and statements, as provided for in Article 310 of the Convention. Such declarations and statements can be useful in promulgating U.S. policy and putting other nations on notice of U.S. interpretation of UNCLOS.

In the 111
th Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on January 13, 2009, acknowledged that U.S. accession to UNCLOS would be an Obama Administration priority. Later in this confirmation hearing, Senator John Kerry, the committee chair, confirmed that UNCLOS would also be a committee priority. However, the Senate took no action on UNCLOS during the 111th Congress. In the 112th Congress, the Administration continued to encourage Senate action on UNCLOS, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, was guardedly optimistic.

A possible benefit of U.S. ratification would be the international community’s anticipated positive response to such U.S. action. In addition, early U.S. participation in the development of policies and practices of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and the International Seabed Authority could help to forestall future problems related to living marine resources. On the other hand, some U.S. interests view U.S. ratification as potentially complicating enforcement of domestic marine regulations, and remain concerned that UNCLOS’s language concerning arbitrary refusal of access to surplus (unallocated) living resources might be a potential source of conflict (in addition to concerns about other provisions of the Convention). These uncertainties reflect the absence of any comprehensive assessment of the social and economic impacts of UNCLOS implementation by the United States.

This report describes provisions of UNCLOS relating to living marine resources and discusses how these provisions comport with current U.S. marine policy. As presently understood and interpreted, these provisions generally appear to reflect current U.S. policy with respect to living marine resource management, conservation, and exploitation. Based on these interpretations, they are generally seen as not imposing significant new U.S. obligations, commitments, or encumbrances, and are seen as providing several new privileges, primarily related to participation in commissions developing international ocean policy. No new domestic legislation appears to be required to implement the living resources provisions of UNCLOS.

Date of Report: December 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL32185
Price: $29.95

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