Ocean Development and Management in the Arctic: Issues in American and Canadian Relations


  • David L. Vanderzwaag
  • Cynthia Lamson




Boundaries, Environmental law, International law, Marine pollution, Maritime law, Sovereignty, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Alaska, Canadian Beaufort Sea, Bering Sea, Canadian Arctic Islands waters, Chukchi Sea, Northwest Passage, Yukon, Alaskan Beaufort Sea


The need for Canadian-American cooperative ocean management in the Arctic stems from four factors. Transboundary ocean currents have the potential to carry marine pollutants from one country to the other. Many living resources, such as bowhead and beluga whales, do not recognize political boundaries. Native communities depend culturally and economically on coastal resources. Technological collaboration in such areas as satellite communications and navigational aids is necessary to avoid costly duplications. Three documents - the World Conservation Strategy, the Report of the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment, and the Law of the Sea Convention - bid the United States and Canada to join hands in managing resources in a more systematic manner. At least four jurisdictional issues concerning arctic waters are capable of rocking future U.S.-Canadian relations: the Alaska/Yukon offshore boundary, the legal status of the waters of the Canadian arctic archipelago and the Northwest Passage, the legal principles governing the exclusive economic zones in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering seas, and the legal regime applicable to arctic waters and the seabed beyond 200 nautical miles. Although cooperative ocean management may be hindered by national complexities, such as lack of clear arctic policies, fragmented decision-making processes, and tensions between government managers and local communities, the two countries should address eight threshold questions concerning future institutional linkages: Are present formal and informal arrangements adequate for arctic ocean management? What type or types of agreement - demonstrative, administrative, distributive or resolutive - should be used to formalize cooperation? What level of cooperation - bilateral, trilateral, arctic-wide or global - is required and politically feasible? Should the two countries create new management institutions or should they harmonize existing legislation and administration? Should one "super commission" be created with a say over all arctic marine issues or should a number of commissions be created for coordinating individual ocean uses? Should joint institutions have advisory or actual decision-making powers? What role should native groups play in regionalized arctic marine management? What type of dispute-settlement mechanism(s) should be established?

Key words: Canada-U.S. relations, ocean development and management, international law of the sea