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Do I Need My Passport?

People plan fishing trips, whether it is summertime fly-fishing in Montana or ice fishing during the winter. People also plan deep sea fishing trips out in the ocean. Note that different laws apply, depending where you fish.

Law of the Seas Treaty

In 1994, the United Nations Law of the Seas Treaty went into effect, giving sovereign control to waters 12 miles, which is the equivalent of 13.8 nautical miles, from the coast. People who go to Southern California and fish in the Coronado Islands and the Rockpile, which are both popular tourist fishing spots, will have entered into Mexican territorial waters. When this occurs, tourists will be required to show their passports.

In a practical sense, tourists and others going out into the ocean for fishing or other purposes need to be cautious and mindful of local laws. Due to international boundaries, it may be easy for tourists and others to enter into the territory of a sovereign without realizing. This is especially true when someone is out in the ocean of a smaller country or is close to the border. Unlike land borders that have recognizable boundaries, ocean borders usually do not have recognizable borders. There is often no sign or other marker depicting such a border. In general, tourists out at sea are not asked to show their passports and are not processed like tourists on land. However, it has and can happen.

History of Oceanic Regulation

For centuries, the open seas were governed by a doctrine of “freedom of the seas,” meaning that the high seas were generally beyond the scope of sovereign rule. With the discovery of offshore oil and subsequent technological advancement, the United States claimed sovereignty over natural resources being developed on its continental shelf. Shortly thereafter, other nations, seeking to protect natural resources they felt belonged to them, followed suit with claims over resources of their continental shelves. This led to inconsistent and unclear rules with respect to a sovereign’s control over its waters.

In 1958, the United Nations convened the first convention discussing The Laws of the Sea. The purpose was to codify and streamline use of a sovereign’s waters. A similar convention occurred in 1960. In 1967, the country of Malta warned that sovereigns may use the ocean floors for defense and other purposes. This triggered the UN General Assembly to convene a committee on Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor Beyond. At the committee’s plenary session, the United States and the Soviet Union sparred with 58 other nations who felt that the two superpowers were trying to flex their muscles. Smaller countries condemned the superpowers and others for plundering fish and other high seas resources.

Marine Mammal Protection Act

The United States legislated to regulate the hunting, sale, and export of marine mammals through the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, or MMPA. The MMPA limits or bars the hunting of mammals under US jurisdiction. This legislation is part of a wider effort for conservation of the larger world ecosystem.

Involved in the maritime business? Partner with the Kolodny law firm, experienced maritime attorneys.

(Photo by Elise Iovenko)

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