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The cannon shot rule

by Andrew Laird

Andrew Archer

The cannon shot rule generally defined the limit of 3 nautical miles. However, the Scandinavians claimed four nautical miles on the basis of superior cannon – which caused some consternation.

Back in the sixteenth century, the father of international law and freedom of the seas, Grotius, acknowledged the existence of a sovereign State’s rights over its coastal waters as could be effectively controlled from land. Despite consternation from Scandinavian States at the time (who insisted on greater precision), the ‘cannon shot rule’ (generally accredited to Bynkershoek) provided that a sovereign State had jurisdiction over its coastal waters to the extent of the reach of its cannon and other onshore artillery. This was reflected in the maxim terrae dominum finitur, ubi finitur armorium vis (the dominion of the land ends where the range of weapons ends).

The ‘cannon shot rule’ prevailed until about the mid nineteenth century when it gradually gave way to the three nautical mile limit which in turn has since been extended and modified.

Over time vexing issues remained particularly in relation to a State’s rights in and over the high seas. As the world’s nations plundered the high seas’ resources, in particular straddling and migratory fish stocks, these (over-exploitation) issues were high on the international (legal) agenda. The attached article explores the impact of the United Nations Straddling Stocks Agreement on the international legal regulation of straddling and migratory fish stocks.

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