U.S. coastal fishery interests in domestic and international politics

Mark J Meirowitz, Fordham University


Political realism, which emphasized the predominance of states, the use of force as an effective instrument of policy and a hierarchy of issues headed by military security issues, gave way to "complex interdependence" in which multiple channels connect societies, military force plays a less significant role and a clear hierarchy of issues is absent. The distinction between foreign policy and domestic policy broke down and resulted in a basic transformation of the process of formation of foreign policy. This permitted active participation in foreign policy-making by actors outside the Executive Branch, such as Congress and interest groups. In the domestic debate over fisheries legislation and in the formation of U.S. fisheries policy at the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), Congress and interest groups played a significant role. Coastal fishery interests, comprised of a loosely connected coalition of commercial fishermen, sport fishermen and environmentalists were able, together with their allies in Congress, to ensure the passage of the 1976 Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Coastal fishery interests prevailed over distant water fishery interests, which had better contacts with Congress and larger funding, and over the opposition of the Departments of State and Defense. The U.S. enacted a 200-mile fisheries zone and, at UNCLOS III, U.S. policy moved in a coastal direction through the abandonment of the "species" approach and the acceptance of a 12-mile territorial sea and a 200-mile economic zone. Lobbying by coastal fishery interest groups was very effective, making the issue of foreign overfishing of coastal fishery stocks "salient" to the American populace and to Congress. In Congress, key Congressmen organized a major legislative effort for the bill's passage. Also, unilateral fisheries legislation became a major aspect of the development of customary international law. These events exemplify the kinds of policies generated in an era of "complex interdependence" where domestic effects of foreign policy formation are of heightened significance and economic issues, such as fisheries issues, are allowed to rise to the top of the policy agenda.

Subject Area

Political science|International law|International relations

Recommended Citation

Meirowitz, Mark J, "U.S. coastal fishery interests in domestic and international politics" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8917240.