The Effect of Historic Fishing Rights In Maritime Boundaries Delimitation
Research Fellow, Centre for International Law
National University of Singapore
When the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) regime was established by the Third United Nations Conference of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) it created a new fisheries regime for coastal States. The EEZ regime under Part V of the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (LOS Convention) grants coastal States exclusive rights to fisheries resources as far as 200 nautical miles (nm) from their coastlines. It has been commonly asserted that the EEZ regime, which is now widely accepted as customary international law, precludes States from making claims to traditional or historic fishing rights in the EEZ of other States. Some States, however, have continued to assert historic fishing rights within the EEZ of other States, the most prominent example being China, which has consistently made claims to historic fishing rights within its infamous nine-dashed line in the South China Sea, which overlaps with the EEZs of the Philippines, Viet Nam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
This article argues that first, by accepting the EEZ regime, coastal States have given up any claims they may have had, with regard to fishing in the EEZ of other States, based on traditional or historic fishing rights. Second, although historic/traditional fishing rights may still exist alongside the EEZ regime, such rights are subject to recognition by the coastal State in whose EEZ the rights are being exercised. Finally, historic fishing rights may play a role in the delimitation of overlapping EEZs, but only in exceptional circumstances.
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