The emergence of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the 1970s
placed potentially vast areas under national jurisdiction. From relatively
modest territorial seas close to the coast as the only basis of fisheries
jurisdiction for States, suddenly the international community embraced a new
form of jurisdiction over resources that extended to fisheries up to 200 nautical
miles from land. This extension brought over one third of the world’s oceans
under national jurisdiction, or more importantly, approximately ninety percent
of the world’s wild fish catch.
While the possibility of bringing the resources of these areas under
national control was of tremendous value to many developing States, the
difficulties of enforcement over such areas were not so readily considered.
Some States, notably the States of the South Pacific, but by no means
restricted to them, simply lacked the capacity to police their waters and protect
their resources from the depredation of others. A vast area subject to national
jurisdiction would potentially require substantial assets at sea and in the air in
order to effectively patrol, police, and enforce the new jurisdiction vested in
States. For oil and gas exploitation, deployment of few if any coast guard or
naval assets in the EEZ was not a huge difficulty, as exploitation of the seabed
is a slow and expensive business. For fisheries, which can be far more
cheaply exploited, and in a more transitory fashion, a lack of enforcement
capacity represented a potentially serious impediment.