The 200 mile rule and EU's fisheries policy
The development which revolutionised fishing in European waters and beyond was the adoption of the 200 mile rule. Since the end of the Second World War, certain coastal states had begun to eat into the "mare liberum" to reserve for themselves the riches which they held, particularly fish. National bagging of coastal waters, traditionally held at canon range - taken to be three nautical miles - was unilaterally extended by several States to 12 miles after the failure of the 1958 and 1960 United Nations Conferences to uphold their demands.
But certain Latin American countries were already calling for a reserved fishing zone of 200 miles. They sought thus to protect themselves against the dynamism of North America vessels, 200 miles being the distance from the coasts of Chile to the Humboldt Current, a warm current which stimulates fish spawning and marks the boundary of a zone rich in fishery resources. The North Americans, for their part, were not adverse to the idea of keeping their own waters, also rich in fish, for their own vessels. The vote in the US Congress at the beginning of 1976 in favour of the extension of a fishery conservation zone to 200 miles stepped up the pace of the so-called "creeping jurisdiction" movement. Mexico and Iceland had already adopted similar measures in the North Atlantic. They were to be followed by Canada and Norway.
Over the same period, the Commission became increasingly conscious of the fact that the movement to extend fishery limits to 200 miles would create special problems for the EEC, notably as regards access to the fishing zones of the Member States and the conservation of resources. But at the same time it was aware that the movement in this direction was unstoppable. It proposed negotiating briefs moving with the tide, which were accepted by the Council on July 27, 1976. The European Community was therefore ready to accept the 200-mile limit introduced by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [Convention and Decision 98/392].