Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), where the same fish stock or stocks of associated species occur both within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and in an area beyond or adjacent to it, States can either initiate some measures to conserve the stocks or enter into regional or subregional agreements (article 63 UNCLOS); similarly States may enter into cooperative agreements to manage and conserve fish stocks on the high seas (article 118 UNCLOS). One successful example of that agreement is the 1994 Convention on the Conservation and Management of Pollock Resources in the Central Bering Sea (the “Bering Sea Doughnut Hole Convention”).
Before the EEZ concept was codified in UNCLOS, a great portion of the Bering Sea was open to unregulated fishing of pollock (Theragra chalcogramma). However, in 1977, as the EEZ concept gained solidity and became widely accepted during the final years of the III United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, a number of States including the United States and the former Soviet Union declared 200-mile EEZs thus leaving a small portion of the Bering Sea as high seas. This area, called the Doughnut Hole for its shape, was not fished since there was a belief that it was not very rich in pollock. After all, foreign fishing fleets were given fishing rights in both the EEZ of the former Soviet Union and the United States. However, when the pollock fishery began to gain considerable economic importance for the United States, foreign vessels were not allowed to fish in the U.S. EEZ any longer. Most of the foreign fishing vessels were banned from the former Soviet Union for similar reasons. The result was that the foreign vessels (China, Japan, Poland and the Republic of Korea) decided to explore the Doughnut Hole and by using trawl nets suspended in midwater (unlike the bottom trawl nets used in the shallower parts of the Bering Sea) realized they could catch a lot of pollock. The Doughnut Hole pollock fishery grew very rapidly – even more than the pollock fisheries in either the U.S. or former Soviet Union EEZs – along with concerns that the fishery could be depleted soon. Besides the fishery concerns, there was growing evidence of illegal fishing within the U.S. EEZ, which prompted U.S. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens to call the United States and the former Soviet Union to extend “bilateral fishery jurisdiction” over the Bering Sea. Resolution S.396 on the “illegal fishing in the international water of the Bering Sea” called for a moratorium on pollock harvests in the Doughnut Hole pending the negotiation of an agreement.
By 1990 the fishery was on the verge of collapse. The foreign fishing vessels that were routinely dispatched to harvest pollock in the region resisted the moratorium, yet the evidence was clear: the pollock fishery had collapsed from overfishing. In 1993 finally they stopped fishing. While initially the intention was for the United States and the former Soviet Union to enter into bilateral agreements, it was quite obvious that the participation of the so called “distant water fishing nations” (DWFN) was needed.
Negotiations involving the U.S., the former Soviet Union, China, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Poland continued from 1991 to 1994. Finally in 1994, they entered into the Bering Sea Doughnut Hole Convention, whose purpose is to manage the pollock fishery the day it will resume.
Main provisions of the Bering Sea Doughnut Hole Convention
The goals of the Bering Sea Doughnut Hole Convention can be summarized as follows:
- Set up an international framework for the conservation, management and optimum utilization of pollock in the area;
- Restore and maintain the pollock fishery at levels which will permit their maximum sustainable yield;
- Cooperate in the collection and examination of data concerning pollock and other marine living resources in the Doughnut Hole; and
- Provide a forum in which to consider the establishment of conservation and management measures for living marine resources other than pollock as may be required in the future.
Relationship to other International Agreements
UNCLOS. Pollock is in the words of UNCLOS a “straddling stock”: the basic fishery-related provisions of UNCLOS offered general guidance to the Bering Sea Doughnut Hole Convention.
1993 Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas (“FAO Compliance Agreement”). The FAO Compliance Agreement provisions relating to the responsibilities of flag States for their vessels fishing in the high seas are incorporated in the Doughnut Hole Convention.
1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. While there are some differences between the two conventions, The Bering Sea Doughnut Hole Convention became a precedent for the elaboration of the right of a State other than the Flag State to board and inspect fishing vessels on the high seas and to take measures to prevent the continuation of violations of agreed conservation standards.
- Balton, D.A. 2001. The Bering Sea Doughnut Hole Convention: Regional Solution, Global Implications. In O.S. Stokke (ed.), Governing High Seas Fisheries - The Interplay of Global and Regional Regimes. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 0198299494
- Dunlap, W.V. 1995. Bering Sea: The Donut Hole Agreement. 10 International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law 114.