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Document Type

Article

Abstract

In 1989, the Northeastern states of Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire in the United States and the neighboring Canadian Provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia embarked upon a new form of regional marine environmental cooperation when their governors and premiers adopted the Agreement on Conservation of the Marine Environment of the Gulf of Maine Between the Governments of the Bordering States and Provinces. By doing so, they gave birth to an informal regime for the Gulf of Maine (GoM) (i.e. the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment), which to date has withstood the test of time. GoM regime participants undertake transboundary cooperation on the basis of shared ecosystem goals and objectives, as well as through the implementation of quinquennial Action Plans. In doing so, regime participants have effectively cooperated on the basis of a generally informal framework consisting of soft principles, understandings, and processes reflecting their mutual expectations in the regime’s issue areas. The GoM regime has been the subject of several scholarly reviews in recent years. Chircop et al. noted that the GoM regime: may be viewed as novel in at least three ways. First, the Agreement and Action Plan represent the first attempt to develop a broad regional marine environmental protection regime in North America . . . . Second, the Agreement is a provincial and state initiative, not a bilateral treaty between two sovereign nations. The Agreement, signed by the governors and premiers of the jurisdictions concerned, is neither a diplomatic instrument, nor a formal document. It is, essentially, a non-binding, multilateral, political agreement and therefore the impetus to cooperate is moral, rather than as a result of any legal obligation or commitment. This is in contrast to most regional marine environmental arrangements . . . which involve countries, such as the 13 Regional Seas Programmes facilitated by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the regional agreements for the Baltic and North-East Atlantic. Third, the Agreement and Action Plan are not limited in coverage to marine waters but adopt an ecosystem approach covering coastal areas and watersheds in the region. The Agreement explicitly provides for consideration of “the shoreline, seabed, waters and associated natural resources of the GoM region, including Georges Bank and the Bay of Fundy.” The GoM regime has persisted for two decades and has grown to address increasingly more issues. It has evolved to respond to a changing biophysical and socio-economic operating environment in a different manner from other regional environmental regimes, and continues to do so with the release of its fourth and latest Action Plan for the period 2007-2012. Against this backdrop, this Article is an assessment of the GoM regime, and further builds on the literature on the subject. This assessment is considered in the context of the GoM’s geography, hydrology, ecosystem, resources, and legal considerations, and the ecosystem challenges faced by the region. The origins and historical evolution of the regime are then set out, followed by a discussion of the main elements of the GoM regime. This assessment is an attempt at explaining the persistence of the GoM regime by offering insights into key factors that have contributed to its endurance, while at the same time raising important questions for future continuity and further growth.

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