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Policy and Law on the High Seas: The Outlaw Ocean Course

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A collaborative course between the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions and the Stanford Law School gives students the chance to approach solutions to illegal fishing from a policy perspective.

In a global ocean environment, addressing international challenges associated with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing requires cooperative solutions that combine science, policy, and law. This spring quarter, ten students from a variety of Stanford programs participated in a Law and Policy Lab practicum course, which are offered by the Law School and seek to engage students directly with real-world policy challenges.

The course, titled "The Outlaw Ocean", was inspired by the investigative reporting of New York Times author, Ian Urbina, and his book about maritime crime on the high seas. The Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) engages regularly with many of the topics Urbina covered in his reporting, including IUU fishing and forced labor practices.

COS partnered with the the Stanford Law School's Law and Policy Lab in part because of the need for a deep understanding of international legal systems in addressing these issues. The course was supported by Policy Lab Director Luciana Herman, who facilitated opportunities for the students to engage more deeply with with the resources available at the Law School, which were integral to approaching problem-solving through a policy perspective.

"I think it stems from the name, the Center for Ocean Solutions – a lot of our work is looking at problems. And the policy labs are best suited to deal with problems from a policy lens," said Kevin Chand, a COS Law and Policy Early Career Fellow and member of the Outlaw Ocean Teaching Team.

The Policy Practicum structure allows students to spend a full quarter focused on a specific research question. The teaching team spent much of Winter Quarter narrowing down the research topics and identifying the legal questions that students would dig into. They also worked on developing outside partnerships that would help guide students through their research; each team was paired with a client organization for whom the research question was particularly salient.

The course met once a week on Thursdays and class time was divided between guest lectures and group breakout sessions to give individual teams time to work with different members of the teaching team.

"They're [policy practicums] a spectacular learning opportunity," said Janet Martinez, the Faculty Director of the Gould Negotiation and Mediation Program at the Stanford Law School, and a member of the teaching team. Martinez has taught a number of policy practicums prior to The Outlaw Ocean. "And they're really rich for the for the faculty, too, just to be able to work with students at this level and in a really meaningful way."

In addition to navigating an already complex course structure, the teaching team also needed to adapt the class to accommodate a virtual learning environment. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all Spring Quarter courses at Stanford were moved online, including courses aimed at giving students experience navigating the real-world, like the Policy Practicums. Because of the small class size, teaching over Zoom lent itself well to efficient breakout sessions and appearances from guest speakers from around the world, who were grappling with the same adjustments to work and education.

"By having to go virtual, we became really focused and precise in structuring the class. COVID really forced us to be very deliberate about what we were trying to do in the time that we had," Martinez said.

Students in The Outlaw Ocean were divided into three research teams. The first team focused on data policy in the context of enforcing national and international fisheries law, policy, and management. The second team studied the potential opportunities for implementing a compliance-based system to help combat illegal fishing. Both the data policy and compliance research teams partnered with Global Fishing Watch, an international non-profit organization that specializes in increasing transparency by tracking and visualizing fishing vessel activity.

The third research team worked on issues at the intersection of marine law and forced labor in the fisheries industry. They were guided by partners from the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice, which supports knowledge generation and capacity building around issues related to human rights and international law.

This course is the newest in a movement for COS to reach a broader Stanford community. For the past two years, COS has also supported a course called Oceans x Design in collaboration with the Stanford Kevin Chand and Eric Hartge, along with colleagues Erika Woolsey, Lesley-Ann Noel, and Nadia Gathers developed a multidisciplinary framework for diving into the intersection of marine systems and design. In inviting students from across disciplines to work on issues of ocean policy and equity, COS is expanding its reach and seeking to engage a budding group of ocean advocates.

"Our mission is and should be partly pedagogical," said COS co-director Jim Leape. "We care a lot about the future ocean leaders who will be the ones to crack these problems."

The course concluded with presentations by each of the research teams. The presentations summarized each team's research and recommendations for further study, showcasing the level of detail dedicated to the interviews and legal analysis that made their work possible.

Below, meet the teaching team, and explore each student team's research on The Outlaw Ocean.

Meet the Teaching Team!

Kevin Chand

Kevin Chand, COS Early Career Law and Policy Fellow

Annie Brett

Annie Brett, COS André Hoffmann Fellow

Janet Martinez

Janet Martinez, Faculty Director of the Gould Negotiation and Mediation Program, Stanford Law School

The Outlaw Ocean course was also supported by three directed research students, who conducted research during the Winter Quarter in preparation for the Spring Policy Practicum. Two of those students, Shalini Iyengar and Hai Jin, continued their work in the spring as legal research assistants. The preliminary research reports produced by all three students helped narrow and define the spring teams' research questions.

  • Shalini Iyengar, JSM, Fellow in the Stanford Program in International Legal Studies, Stanford Law School | Corporate Liability for Human Rights Abuses in the Fisheries Sector
  • Hai Jin, PH.D. Minor, Computer Science, JSD Candidate, Stanford Law School | Illegal Fishing and Data Policy: A Case Study of Korea
  • Xiao Wang, LLM, Stanford Law School | China's Distant Water Fishing Industry and Ongoing Reform 

Data Policy and IUU Fishing

Public Data-Sharing as a Means of Combating Illegal Fishing: Three Case Studies in Latin America

Neil Nathan, MS '20; Hanna Payne, MA '20; Victor Xu, JD '21

Data transparency plays an important role in supporting regional and global efforts to combat illegal fishing and ensure healthy use of ocean resources. Location-monitoring data, like those generated by Automated Identification Systems (AIS) and Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) programs, offer an inside look at fishing vessels’ activities. These data can aid enforcement of international maritime law and support states’ reputations for engaging in sustainable and ethical fishing practices.

Although the benefits of public data sharing are many, there are often legal and policy obstacles to achieving full data transparency. States face complex legislative histories that prohibit sharing of confidential information, like VMS data. They must also navigate issues of political will and the influence of profitable fishing industry leaders.

This research approaches the question of legal obstacles to data-sharing policy via case studies of three Latin American states. Peru, Chile, and Ecuador are all high-grossing coastal fishing nations and important global actors. Chile and Peru’s experiences with successfully publishing VMS data can provide insights into the key drivers of data publication. Meanwhile, a closer look at Ecuador’s efforts to share data reveal some of the major hurdles to public-sharing.

"Starting from a baseline of zero before the policy lab began, I gained a solid understanding of the technology, key players, challenges, and opportunities in the fisheries-data space. Although it’s obviously difficult to make a huge splash in only ten weeks, I think the data-policy group created a useful reference document for anyone interested in the type of laws and regulations governing fisheries data in Latin America."

Victor Xu, Stanford Law School J.D. Candidate

"This class was an incredible way to engage professionally with the sector I’ve been most interested in during my time at Stanford. Interviewing experts across the globe, conducting collaborative research, and contributing to a useful product created a much more fulfilling experience than a typical class."

Neil Nathan, M.S. Earth Systems

Expedited Entry at Port

Expedited Entry Port System: A Proposal for the Implementation of a Voluntary Compliance-Based Structure to Reduce Global IUU Fishing

Laura Anderson, MA '21; Sadie Cwikiel, MS '20; Josheena Naggea, PhD '22

IUU fishing accounts for nearly 20% of the world catch and has widespread and well-recognized negative effects on the environment, economies, and human rights. Enforcement efforts to penalize vessels engaged in IUU fishing can be costly, given the vastness of the ocean. Developing innovative solutions that look beyond the traditional enforcement model may provide new pathways to combat IUU fishing.

A compliance-based system could shift the burden of demonstrating compliance to vessels such that port authorities have more capacity for inspecting non-compliant vessels.

This project evaluated the requirements to operationalize an Expedited Entry Port System (EEPS) for fishing vessels at ports to shift the burden of proof onto fishing vessels during port inspections by ensuring that proactively transparent and compliant vessels are recognized and rewarded. Using a comparative case study approach, the research examined the possibilities and constraints of a proposed EEPS by delving into current Port State control measures in two island states, the Republic of Marshall Islands and the Republic of Mauritius.

"What a great course! The class was an exciting opportunity to put theory into practice. It was fascinating to research existing port entry systems, interview experts and collaborate with project partners to explore a system that could incentivize compliance."

Laura Anderson, Earth Systems M.A. Candidate

the goal of actually making a difference in the policies that impact fisheries. Our work will hopefully be used by Global Fishing Watch to make real change, which feels like an awesome contribution to come out of a 10-week class. We learned so much from interviewing people all over the world, each with a different stake in fisheries and unique experiences to share -- that type of learning doesn't happen any other way."

Sadie Cwikiel, M.S. Earth Systems

"Our project required creativity and critical thinking in assessing proposals and incentive structures. We had to move back and forth between conceptual aspects of the proposed model to more contextual possibilities and constraints. I truly enjoyed the topic my team worked on, and the best part was the continuous feedback received by a stellar teaching team, which made the experience all the more enriching. The course also provided us with valuable hands on experience engaging with industry leaders. All in all, an exciting challenge!"

Josheena Naggea, Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources PhD Candidate

Forced Labor in Fisheries

Policy Approaches to Addressing Forced Labor in Fisheries

Nahla Achi, MA '21; Natasha Batista, MS '20; Trudie Grattan, BS '21; Katelyn Masket, JD '21

Although inherently difficult to track, forced labor is widespread in many sectors of the global economy. In a 2017 report, the International Labour Organization estimated that on any given day, 25 million people around the world were victims of forced labor. Tackling this issue presents particular challenges in the fishing industry, as workers are often confined to vessels for extended periods of time in remote areas, making it difficult to communicate with or express concerns to authorities on land. While out at sea, these vessels and all those on board lie largely beyond the reach of national jurisdictions or feasible monitoring, inspection, and enforcement.

This research explores legislative and policy efforts to implement fair labor practices in fisheries, with a specific focus on two case studies: Fiji and Indonesia. The memo dives deep into these two countries and seeks to understand the way national policy and political contexts interact with international legal frameworks built to address forced labor in fisheries.

Through desk research and expert interviews, the project examined the strengths and weaknesses of each country’s approach, including the promising points of intervention and challenges to implementation, with an eye towards learnings that could be applied more broadly to the sector.

"The Outlaw Ocean is one of the best classes I’ve taken at Stanford. The policy lab structure really allowed us to dive deep into our research topics and capitalize on everyone’s knowledge and skills as we collaborated on our projects. I learned a ton from my teammates, the teaching team, and the many experts who guest lectured!"

Nahla Achi, M.A. Earth Systems

"This class was an awesome opportunity to dive deep into social and ethical issues on human labor practices in the ocean, and I feel incredibly lucky to have met so many professionals tackling these challenges."

Natasha Batista, M.S. Earth Systems

The Future of The Outlaw Ocean

The Outlaw Ocean White Paper is set to be published in early September 2020. It will be featured on the Outlaw Ocean course webpage, as well as the Stanford Law School's Publications webpage. It will also be accessible through the Stanford Libraries systems as a public research report.

Learn more about the Law and Policy Lab

Learn more about our work at COS

Story by: Hanna Payne