An exclusive economic zone is basically an area of coastal water and seabed
within a certain distance of a country's coastline, to which the country claims
exclusive rights for fishing, drilling, and other economic activities. The
principle of freedom of the seas is recognized in the seventeenth century as one
of the oldest principles of international law. This concept of freedom was
ideally suited to the requirements of commerce and economic progress and was the
sea- going equivalent of the liberal principles of free trade and free
The concept of the exclusive economic zone is one of the most
important pillars of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. The regime of
the exclusive economic zone is perhaps the most complex and multifaceted in the
whole Convention. The accommodation of diverse issues contributed substantially
to the acceptance of the concept and to the Convention as a whole.
Convention on the Law of the Sea is often referred to as a package. The metaphor
is derived from a decision made during the Third United Nations Conference on
the Law of the Sea that the Convention would be adopted in toto, as a package
. No single issue would be adopted until all issues were settled. This
decision provided an essential mechanism for reconciling the varied interests of
the states participating in the Conference. If a state's interests in one issue
were not fully satisfied, it could look at the whole package and find other
issues where its interests were more fully represented, thereby mitigating the
effects of the first. Thus, the Convention became an elaborately-constructed
document built on trade-offs, large and small.
What is Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)?
An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights
regarding the exploration and use of marine resources ,including energy
production from water and wind.1 It stretches from the baseline out to 200
Nautical miles2(nmi) from its coast. In colloquial usage, the term may include
the continental shelf. The term does not include either the territorial sea
or the continental shelf beyond the 200 nmi limit. The difference between the
territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone is that the first confers full
sovereignty over the waters, whereas the second is merely a sovereign right
which refers to the coastal state's rights below the surface of the sea. The
surface waters, as can be seen in the map, are international waters.3
Evolution of the concept of EEZ
The idea of allotting nations EEZs to give them more control of maritime affairs
outside territorial limits gained acceptance in late 20th century. The concept
of EEZ was initiated by Kenya in 1972 at the Geneva Convention ofthe UN. The
Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which first met in
Caracas in the summer of 1974 and was followed by a second session in Geneva in
May 1974, and three further sessions in New York, was characterized by the
failure of the international community to agree on any precise legal regime for
One of the suggestions that was regarded as likely to form a basis for agreement
was the concept of the exclusive economic zone which a number of nations have
supported in one form or another, albeit with great divergences of emphasis
concerning the rights of coastal States and the rights of other nations within
the zone and later after all the debate it was finally adopted in the year 1982
on the third UN conference on the law of the sea.
Rights, Jurisdiction and duties of the coastal state in the exclusive economic
zone (Article 56)
- In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:
(a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving
and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters
superjacent to the seabed and of the
seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic
exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from
the water, currents and winds;
(b) jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this
Convention with regard to:
(i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations
(ii) marine scientific research;
(iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment;
(c) other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.
- In exercising its rights and performing its duties under this Convention
in the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State shall have due regard to
the rights and duties of other States and shall act in a manner compatible
with the provisions of this Convention.
- The rights set out in this article with respect to the seabed and
subsoil shall be exercised in accordance with Part VI.
Rights and duties of other States in the exclusive economic zone (Article 584): 4
- In the exclusive economic zone, all States, whether coastal or
land-locked, enjoy, subject to the relevant provisions of this Convention,
the freedoms referred to in article 87 of navigation and over flight and of
the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally
lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms, such as those associated
with the operation of ships, aircraft and submarine cables and pipelines,
and compatible with the other provisions of this Convention.
- Articles 88 to 115 and other pertinent rules of international law apply
to the exclusive economic zone in so far as they are not incompatible with
- In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this
Convention in the exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to
the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws
and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the
provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far
as they are not incompatible with this Part
Importance of EEZ The importance of exclusive economic zones under international law is very much
- The ocean is a major hub of economic activity. Oceans waters serve as a
source of food and valuable minerals, as a vast highway for commerce, and
provide a place for both recreation and waste disposal. Increasingly, people
are turning to the oceans for their food supply either by direct consumption
or indirectly by harvesting fish that is then processes for livestock feed.
- water is processed to extract commercially valuable minerals such as
salt, bromine, and magnesium.
- In a few arid regions of the world, such as Ascension Island, Kuwait,
and Israel, ocean water is desalinated to produce fresh water.
Internationally Shared Fishery Resources
The establishment of the EEZ brought with it the shared fish stock problem. Two
broad, non- mutually exclusive, categories of shared stocks have been identified
as transboundary stocks (EEZ to EEZ) and straddling fish stocks (both within the
EEZ and the adjacent high seas).
Under the 1982 United Nations (UN) Convention,
coastal states sharing a transboundary resource are admonished to enter into
negotiations with respect to cooperative management of the resource.
Importantly, however, they are not required to reach an agreement. If the
relevant coastal states negotiate in good faith, but are unable to reach an
agreement, then each coastal state is to manage its share of the resource (i.e.,
that part occurring within its EEZ), in accordance with the relevant rights and
duties laid down by the 1982 UN Convention.
Indian Position on EEZ
The Maritime zones Act of 1976 under section 7 provides that the exclusive
economic zone of India
, is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial
waters, and the limit of such zone is 200 nautical miles from the baseline from
where territorial waters is measured. Para (2) of section 7 has laid down that
the limit of the EEZ may be altered, after having regard to international limit
of EEZ, by notification in the official gazette5. By the early eighties India
obtained a wide EEZ of about 2.0134 million square km in the sea all along 7500
km long coastline.
The living and non living resources in this zone measured
about two - third of country and the process of trading and transport facilities
navigated through this Area. Millions of people living along the coastline are
directly influenced by oceanography of the EEZ.
India has an exclusive right for the purpose of exploring and exploiting the
natural resources within its EEZ. However the above rights can be exercised by
it peacefully and without interruption by other neighbouring states, only when
its maritime boundary is delineated. It is to be noted that its sea borders with
most of its neighbours are delineated except the two states - Pakistan and
Bangladesh. In the absence of any delineated maritime boundary line between
India and Pakistan, a dispute arose in 1987 over the kutch - Karachi coast.
While Pakistan claims the boundary lies along the southern bank of the creek,
India claims that it lies mid stream. So it is desirable for the two states
the dispute peacefully by negotiation so that it may not flare up.
Finally, it is concluded that:
- The regime for the exclusive economic zone is sui generis. Under it
the coastal states and other states have specific competences. The legal regime
of the exclusive economic zone is thus different from those of the territorial
sea and the high seas. It is a zone which incorporates certain characteristics
of both regimes but belongs to neither. The zone
represents a politico-legal compromise and its various elements constitute a complete
unit whose structural harmony and functional balance will be destroyed if it
were to be assimilated into any pre-existing concept.5
- In the exclusive economic zone a coastal state has been given sovereign
rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing
the natural resources. In exercising its rights and performing its duties
under the Convention, the coastal state is obliged to have due regard to the
rights and duties of other states and to act in a manner compatible with the
Convention (Article 56). The coastal state has been given considerable
discretion in the management of the zone; however, the Convention also
imposes specific management responsibilities on the coastal state,
especially as concerns the living resources of the zone. In the light of
these management responsibilities, a coastal state which has claimed an
exclusive economic zone cannot pursue a policy of inaction with respect to
its living resources.
- The Convention refers to specific matters which a coastal state should
take into account in the management of the zone. It contains provisions
requiring a state to enter into agreements with other states, either
bilaterally, subregionally or regionally. These references in some cases serve
to highlight the interests of other states in the zone or to create preferences
in their favour and they were essential elements in the compromises which made
the concept of the exclusive economic zone generally acceptable. They now
require to be implemented in good faith by all concerned.
- The regime of the exclusive economic zone is clearly a revolutionary
legal concept which evolved very quickly. In about a 30-year time span, an
ocean regime has emerged from many diverse ideas and interests and has found
universal acceptance establishing the unlikely proposition that the whole is
greater than the sum of its parts.
- Dr. H O Agarwal, International law and Human Rights(Central Law Publication,
Allahabad, 22st edn. Reprint,2019).
- https://www.moes.gov.in/programmes/geoscientific-studies-Indian-exclusive-economic- zone
- Part V – Exclusive Economic Zone, Article 55, “Law of the Sea, United
- Two hundred nautical miles is equivalent to 370.4 km.
- Part V – Exclusive Economic Zone, Articles 55, 56, Law of the Sea.
- Part V – Exclusive Economic Zone, Articles 58, “Law of the Sea, United
- Dr. H O Agarwal =, International law and Human Rights,148(Central Law Publication, Allahabad, 22st edn. Reprint, 2019)