The 200-mile limit’s origins

29 Aug 2017
200 mile origins

Chile was one of the first nations to extend its EEZ to 200 miles – back in 1947

I’m looking back 70 years to the origins of the 200-mile EEZ. The true parents of this were Chile and Peru. In 1947, back when I sailed as wireless operator, the President of Chile and the Government of Peru proclaimed national sovereignty over submarine areas, regardless of their size or depth, as well as over the adjacent seas extending as far as necessary to preserve, protect, maintain, and utilise natural resources and wealth. It further established the demarcation of protection zones for whaling and deep sea fishery to extend to 200 nautical miles from their coasts.

The source of this mystical 200-mile limit has recently been traced to a map in a magazine article discussing the pre-WW2 Panama Declaration of 1939 in which the UK and the USA agreed to establish a zone of security and neutrality around the American continents to prevent the resupplying of Axis ships in South American ports. This showed the Chilean neutrality zone to be about 200 miles. This became the basis for the now universal 200-mile limit. In both the Chilean declaration and the Peruvian decrees, freedom of navigation was maintained.

These proclamations had an effect not only in Latin America, but also among certain Arab states. A succession of unilateral declarations were adopted by ten Arab States and emirates within a two-month period in 1949.

The declarations proclaimed sovereignty particularly over the petroleum resources on the continental shelf; they had several aspects in common; jurisdiction over the sea-bed and what's underneath, an affirmation of the regime of the high seas, the freedoms of navigation and overflight, and equitability for all the above principles.
There was consensus as early as 1949 on the principle of sovereignty over the natural resources on the continental shelf.

Five years later, three Latin American countries bordering the South Pacific. Chile, Ecuador and Peru signed the first international agreement proclaiming a 200-mile coastal zone. The main driving force behind this declaration was the desire of those states to develop the resources of their coastal waters.

It asserts that owing to the geological and biological factors affecting the existence, conservation and development of the marine fauna and flora of the waters adjacent to the coasts of the declarant countries, the former extent of the territorial sea and contiguous zone is insufficient to permit of the conservation, development and use of those resources, to which the coastal countries are entitled.

Therefore, the three governments proclaim as a principle of their international maritime policy that each of them possesses sole sovereignty and jurisdiction over the area of sea adjacent to the coast of its own country and extending not less than 200 nautical miles from the said coast.

The first two United Nations Conferences on the Law of the Sea held in Geneva in 1958 and 1960, didn't support the Santiago Declarations, which left Chile, Ecuador and Peru rather isolated. However, over the decade of the 1960s several other Latin American states established their own 200-mile maritime zones. By 1970, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 2750 (XV) which provided the mandate for the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction to act as the preparatory body for the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Ecuador, Panama, Brazil, Chile, Peru, El Salvador, Argentina and Nicaragua had declared sovereignty and jurisdiction over all waters within 200 miles of their coasts. Although the proclamations of these countries were not identical, the purpose of establishing a legal framework under which the state conserved and exploited the natural resources within the waters adjacent to its coast was common to all.

When I look at the history of fisheries worldwide, I mean true history, not just the last 20-50 years, I'm always trying to correlate it with climatic fluctuations - an issue that was thoroughly investigated by my old friend, Dr. Gary Sharp.

According to him, climatic shifts and incessant dynamics of oceanic systems have affected humanity also through their effect on fisheries. Repeated glaciation/deglaciation periods of millennia and decadal to century-scale climate changes were pushing back and forth animal and human populations more often than most people recognise.

The last two centuries were relatively mild. They followed the ‘little ice age,’ which not only annihilated the Greenland's Vikings and irrigated the fields of the Inca Empire, but by causing the collapse of the Baltic herring fishery, also affected the whole Hanseatic commercial system.

Unfortunately, our ability of forecasting of future climate vs. fishery fluctuations is limited, because we have few really long time series that cover more than one or two complete fishery rise-and-fall cycles. Our observation systems are so young, our time series so short, and our measurements so local that many (including satellite-taken) data have only been available since the 1950s, at best. Misused to describe long-term trends, all they can reflect are just short-term convulsions and distortions on the back of the former. As growing numbers of studies show, oceans undergo parallel shifts, with dramatic changes in species abundance, composition, and distribution, and consequently also in fish stocks.

There are sufficient scientific examples and documentation to show that fisheries dynamics involves much more than only fish and fishing. Oceans, hence fisheries, are affected by larger scale dynamic processes and forces. In fact, past catches provide unique ecological climate indicators. According to Dr. Sharp, the influence of the Earth-atmosphere-ocean-climate system on fish populations although well recognised, is still inadequately accounted for in regional stock assessments.