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.