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

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Publication Date: January 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32185

Topic: Environment (Ocean and ocean resources)

Abstract:

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS Convention) was agreed to in 1982, but the United States never became a signatory nation. The current Administration has reiterated support for U.S. accession to the LOS Convention, and the Senate is preparing to consider this matter. The Senate may choose to address the ambiguities of the LOS Convention with its power to make declarations and statements as provided for in Article 310 of the LOS Convention. Such declarations and statements can be useful in promulgating U.S. policy and putting other nations on notice of U.S. interpretation of the LOS Convention.

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 the LOS Convention'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 LOS implementation by the United States.

This report describes provisions of the LOS Convention 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 not seen as imposing significant new U.S. obligations, commitments, or encumbrances, while 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 the LOS Convention. This report will be updated as circumstances warrant.