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Document Type

Article

Abstract

Recent years have witnessed numerous reports of vessels without nationality fishing in contravention of international conservation and management measures. During the summer of 1998, for example, four vessels registered to Sierra Leone were sighted fishing on the high seas in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) regulatory area. These vessels were known throughout the international community to be flying "flags of convenience"--having only the most tenuous link to their flag state. Bowing to direct diplomatic pressure, Sierra Leone refuted the vessels' registration, rendering them stateless and, therefore, subject to the jurisdiction of any state that approached them on the high seas. Such situations are becoming more common. The apparent increase in vessels fishing on the high seas without the protection of a flag state likely has several causes. Many states, like Sierra Leone, known to grant flags of convenience, have yielded to direct diplomatic pressure and purged their registries of illegitimate vessels. Others have begun voluntarily applying the principles underlying the 1995 United Nations Agreement on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks and the 1993 Food and Agriculture Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas. Unfortunately, neither the international community nor the United States has effective tools at its disposal to deal with stateless vessels fishing illegally on the high seas. This Article reviews the current status of international and United States domestic law applicable to vessels without nationality seen fishing the high seas in contravention of international conservation and management measures. The discussion begins in Part II with a survey of the international regime of the high seas, and reviews the importance of the exclusivity rule of flag state jurisdiction on the high seas and exceptions therein, including stateless vessels and vessels assimilated to stateless status. Part III is a brief analysis of international tools and how they interact in the current international legal regime of the high seas. Part IV outlines the High Seas Fishing Compliance Act of 1995 as it is currently written, and suggests a legislative change that would allow the United States to enforce international and multilateral agreements against stateless vessels and those assimilated to stateless status seen fishing on the high seas.

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