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The law of the sea defines the rights and responsibilities of states in the ocean. Every society has a law of the sea, as certain norms emerge regarding the relationship between water and land. The modern law of the sea, however, owes much of its legacy to Early Modern Europe, when states began to designate coastal waters—typically defined as three nautical miles from the coast—as their territory (one nautical mile equals 1.15 statute miles or 1.852 kilometers). During this period, the norm also emerged that the high seas—the ocean beyond territorial waters—could not be controlled by any state.

A more recent stimulus for the modern law of the sea occurred in 1945, when the United States asserted a right to manage “fisheries conservation zones” adjacent to ...

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