Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2016


Ocean iron fertilization (OIF) is a new and controversial climate change mitigation strategy that seeks to increase the carbon-absorbing capacity of ocean waters by depositing significant quantities of iron dust into the marine environment to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton blooms. The photosynthetic processes of these blooms absorb carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it to the ocean floor. OIF has been criticized on several grounds. including the foreseeable and unforeseeable adverse consequences it may cause to the marine environment, as well as the daunting challenge of reconciling several potentially overlapping sources of international and domestic environmental law, which may lead to difficulties in regulating OIF effectively. Notwithstanding these challenges, OIF recently has produced a valuable benefit unrelated to its carbon sequestration purpose. In 2012, the Haida indigenous community in Canada conducted an OIF experiment that sought to restore its decimated supply of Pacific Northwest salmon stocks, upon which the Haida community relies for subsistence and self- determination. The experiment significantly increased salmon stocks within the span of one year.

This Article addresses whether indigenous communities like the Haida in the U.S. Pacific Northwest region could assert a legal right to employ such a strategy in the future to help restore and maintain a cultural food source that has been depleted in part due to climate change impacts. The Article confirms that international environmental law, international human rights law, and federal Indian Law in the United Stales provide a firm foundation for enshrining a legal right to food for federally recognized U.S. tribes in this region. It proposes a potential exception to a future international environmental law treaty framework governing OIF experiments that would protect indigenous communities' rights to enhanced access to salmon as a subsistence and cultural food resource that is essential to self-determination.