By Andrew Cohen
Once viewed as a foreboding frozen mass with little economic potential, the Arctic is now hotly coveted by several nations eager to tap its emerging natural resources. So explains Jennifer Jeffers ’10 in a report that recently won Berkeley Law’s Ellis J. Harmon Prize for best student research paper in environmental law and policy.
Jeffers analyzed the current state of Arctic fisheries and the impact of climate change on existing fish stocks and fisheries management. She calls for a new regulatory framework that integrates science, policy, and law.
“There’s a growing need for Arctic regulations that encompass all three areas,” says Jeffers.
United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark, which governs Greenland, comprise the eight Arctic nations. In November 2008, more than 75 percent of Greenland residents voted in favor of self-rule in an effort to claim independence from Denmark—and the rights to lucrative Arctic resources.
Recent climate change studies suggest that by 2040, previously inaccessible areas of the Arctic Ocean—formerly enclosed by ice caps—will be subject to human reach. Jeffers soberly notes that these ecological transformations will have “monumental effects” on fishery stocks, oil and gas reserves, shipping routes, and even tourism opportunities in the Arctic.
Major shifts in marine species compositions and distributions are expected throughout the Arctic, including fish populations moving north into previously non-navigable areas. As a result, Jeffers writes that “there is little doubt that fishing fleets will also move north, inevitably resulting in significant conflicts over fishing rights and resource ownership between nation states.”
Fishing for Treasures
With many fish stocks likely to expand their range or alter their migration patterns, such stocks will soon overlap several nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Because a nation has sole rights in its EEZ—which extends 200 nautical miles from its coast—unsustainable fishing practices could ensue along with conflicts between neighboring countries that share a growing incentive to claim area resources.
Nations may extend that to 350 nautical miles if able to prove that their continental shelf extends from the coastline beyond the 200-mile limit. Predictably, Arctic nations are researching their ability to extend their EEZs so they can tap previously “unowned” oil and gas reserves—and mitigate the potential impact of migrating fish stocks.
While a regional Arctic treaty could emerge, Jeffers believes that strengthening governance structures already in place is a more politically viable option.
“The region really needs proactive strategies for fisheries policies and management,” she says. “The current governance regimes that manage fisheries aren’t structured to encompass the totality of serious issues that climate change presents. And regional advisory bodies, such as the Arctic Council, are merely soft law in that they don’t have much regulatory authority or enforcement power.”
Jeffers—who received a $2,000 award for her winning paper from Harmon Prize sponsor Cox, Castle & Nicholson—has one year left in her J.D./Master’s in Environmental Policy and Science Management dual degree program. Over the past three years she has also been actively involved with the Law of the Sea Institute, based at UC Berkeley. Working in the San Francisco office of Morrison & Foerster this summer, she will rejoin the firm in its environmental law practice after graduating.
“Over time I definitely hope to focus my work on environmental and ocean law,” Jeffers says. “The effects of climate change are obviously far-reaching, but to me its impact on the future of the Arctic region is particularly compelling.”