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Fisheries are in trouble. For decades, there have been warnings that fish harvests have reached or exceeded sustainable limits and that collapse of capture fisheries might be imminent. Recent evidence has overwhelmingly confirmed these dire predictions (Pauly et al. 1997; Pauly and Maclean 2003). Despite increased fishing effort and more effective equipment, total catch levels have remained stable or decreased every year since the mid 1990s (Vannuccini 2003). Dismal as this total catch statistic might be, it unfortunately paints a deceptively rosy picture. Ever-increasing inputs of money and technology are required to merely tread water – a constant total catch under these circumstances means a diminished return per unit of fishing effort. Moreover, looking only at tonnes of fish caught (the typical representation of total catch) masks the dramatic shifts that have taken place in the species making up that total catch (Garcia and Newton 1997). Increasing catches of low-value species (so-called “trash fish”) obscures the decline in almost every high-value demersal fishery and the profound impact that changing fish populations have had on the aquatic food web.
At the same time that fishers are expending more effort to catch fewer and less valuable fish, demand for fish is increasing at a rapid pace. The human population grows year by year, and food security continues to lag behind.
This book reveals the many harms which flow across the ever-more porous sovereign borders of a globalising world. These harms expose weaknesses in the international legal regime built on sovereignty of nation states. Using the Trail Smelter Arbitration, one of the most cited cases in international environmental law, this book explores the changing nature of state responses to transboundary harm. Taking a critical approach, the book examines the arbitration's influence on international law generally, and international environmental law specifically. In particular, the book explores whether there are lessons from Trail Smelter that are useful for resolving transboundary challenges confronting the international community. The book collects the commentary of a distinguished set of international law scholars who consider the history of the Trail Smelter arbitration, its significance for international environmental law, its broader relationship to international law, and its resonance in fields beyond the environment.
If you go to Trail, British Columbia, as most of the contributors to this volume did in March 2003, you can still see one of the two 409-foot smokestack built there by the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company in the mid-1920s. It was this smokestack that accelerated a chain of events that ultimately produced the Trail Smelter arbitration and etched the name of this tiny Canadian town into the annals of international law. Nestled in an alcove along the shores of the remote but majestic Columbia River, Trail seems an unlikely setting for a case that would assume a prominent role in the law of nations. But viewing the fateful smokestack, which seems somewhat diminished by the combined effect of the smelter's much expanded facilities and the surrounding peaks of the Canadian Rockies, one contributor to this book was moved to exclaim “arbitration works – the arbitration worked.” It was a rare, unequivocal endorsement of international law, especially in such an improbable context.
Certainly, the Columbia River Valley, from northeastern Washington state upstream to Trail, is no longer routinely bathed in toxic fumes from the smelter. Gone are the plumes of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter that cut a swath of damage in those earlier years, even while Trail continues as one of the world's most significant centers for mining and smelting. To this extent, the arbitration was undoubtedly a success.