Responsibility for the impacts of climate change on tuna fisheries in the South Pacific: what role for international law on trans-boundary harm?

Dr Jeffrey McGee (1), Kerryn Brent (2), and Dr Gail Lugten (3)

1 Senior Lecturer in Climate Change, Marine and Antarctic Law, Faculty of Law and Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 89, Sandy Bay, Hobart, TAS, Australia 7001,, @gee15_mc

2 PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 89, Sandy Bay, Hobart, TAS, Australia 7001,

3 Associate Dean Learning and Teaching, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 89, Sandy Bay, Hobart, TAS, Australia 7001,

The economies of Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) depend significantly on revenue from tuna fisheries within their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZ). Scientists suggest that climate change will impact upon the distribution and abundance of tuna species within these areas. This in turn will likely have a detrimental impact on the fishing industries in these areas and the revenue collected by the governments of PSIDS. Existing international agreements regarding straddling fish stocks focus on the issues of conservation and sustainable resource management. They do not address the issue of harm to state’s industries and economies. This paper considers whether the rule against trans-boundary harm in customary international law might provide an avenue for international law to respond to this problem. The rule against trans- boundary harm provides that states have a duty not to cause harm to the territory of other states. This rule has traditionally been invoked in the context of transboundary pollution. However, this paper considers if the impacts of climate change on the distribution of fish stocks in this region, and subsequent detrimental effects on the economies of PSIDS, might be classified as trans- boundary ‘harm’. This paper further considers how applying the rule against trans-boundary harm in this context might contribute more broadly to international responsibility for climate change damage.


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