EEOS Department - 100 Morrissey Blvd. - Boston, MA 02125

John A. Duff  
Associate Professor
Environmental Law
Phone: (617) 287-7445
Fax: (617) 287-7474
  • LL.M.
    University of Washington
  • J.D.
    Suffolk University
  • M.A.
    University of Mississippi
  • B.S.
    University of Lowell

 Broadly speaking, my research interests revolve around matters related to ocean and coastal policy; marine resource management; ocean zoning; land use; and the laws and policies related to public and/or common property interests. Recent research efforts have included examinations of some of the following questions:

  • What influence do property interest types have on aquaculture development? What are the legal and business benefits and constraints of leases versus licenses versus permits?
  • How might federal, state and municipal authorities employ zoning principles to allocate ocean space for particular uses?
  • Are there ways to improve the way environmental protection laws apply to aquaculture operations?
  • Can towns fashion agreements with private landowners to protect property and maintain public coastal access at the same time?
  • What are the relative legal authorities of towns, states and federal government in the ocean?
  • How can environmental laws be fashioned to work at an ecosystem level?
  • Will stretches of US ocean space be "for sale" in the future?
  • How will legal and regulatory systems respond to technological developments and evolving uses of the ocean?
  • Who owns seaweed?
  • Can a state "create" new public trust lands?
  • Are there constitutional rights to fish?
  • How can property lines be drawn in dynamic coastal areas?
  • Will the United States ever join the Law of the Sea Convention?
  • How do insurance markets influence land use and coastal hazard mitigation efforts?
  • Can state and federal authorities fashion effective relationships to manage and protect the coasts?
  • How can countries manage transboundary marine resources?

Center for Coastal Environmental Sensing Networks (CESN)

The UMass/Boston Center for Coastal Environmental Sensing Networks (CESN) works to bring together university researchers, Massachusetts business and industry leaders, and state and federal decision-makers, in an effort to better measure, monitor, and manage our coastal resources. This research center endeavors to work with partners to:

  • develop and test new environmental sensors and transfer them to commercial markets;
  • develop “smart” sensor networks for observing complex interactions of coastal systems including “hotspots and hot moments;”
  • develop discrete and agent-based models to rapidly analyze and visualize complex and non-continuous data streams; and,
  • support environmental decision-making processes.


Nantucket and Madaket Harbors Plan Update

In July 2005, the Town of Nantucket contracted with Urban Harbors Institute at UMass/Boston to update the Harbor Management Plans for Nantucket and Madaket Harbors. The Project team includes Jack Wiggin (UHI Director) John Duff (Assistant Professor with EEOS), Dan Hellin, Chantal Lefebvre, and Kristen Mallek (UHI staff), Sarah Oktay (Managing Director of UMB's Nantucket Field Station), Chris Sweeney (Director of the Division of Marine Operations), Steve Bliven (UHI Senior Associate), Lisa Bowen (EEOS graduate student fellow at UHI) and Rich Delaney (Executive Vice President, Horsley & Witten Group). My work on the project includes research on legal and policy issues related to land use, submerged lands management, and watersheet management. 


International Law of the Sea

In October 2003, during the 108 th Congress (2003-2004), the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings to examine the question of U.S. accession to the Convention and ratification of the accompanying Implementation Agreement. On February 25, 2004, the Committee voted unanimously (19-0) to support U.S. accession/ratification and reported the Convention and the Implementation Agreement to the full Senate for its consideration. On March 11, 2004, the Convention was placed on the Senate schedule and became eligible for the final phase that would bring the U.S. into state party membership. At the adjournment of the 108th Congress at the end of 2004, the Convention had not been brought to a vote. As a result the Convention has slid back in the domestic "advice and consent" process and must once again be considered by the Foreign Relations Committee before it can be submitted to the full Senate. John Duff has written on the US efforts to move the Law of the Sea Convention through the domestic ratification process and is now examining how the US will play a role in the evolution and application of international law of the sea principles in light of the "backsliding" that keeps the US outside of Convention membership. A number of questions merit examination: Why did the Senate refrain from voting on the Convention?; Are there any credible signs that indicate U.S. ratification/accession is likely to occur soon?; and, If the U.S. remains "outside the Convention" how might it protect its global ocean interests? In 2005 I presented a paper entitled "The United States and Ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention" at the International Workshop on The United States and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.


Aquaculture Law and Policy

Over the course of the last five years, I have worked on a number of research projects related to the legal and regulatory systems that apply to aquaculture operations in the United States. I am continuing my research on the role that property rights play in aquaculture developments. In particular I am examining the way in which aquaculture businesses rely upon various characterizations of their legal interests in the space that they use for their activities. And I am asking, why is it that some states grant permits or licenses while other states afford aquaculture operators with stronger interests such as long term leases? And does it make a difference?

Ocean Zoning

As ocean areas are coming under greater pressure from increasing traditional uses such as shipping, fishing, and impacts from coastal land development, as well as proposals to use ocean resources and spaces in new ways (e.g., wind and wave power), some have suggested that it’s time to “zone the ocean". I am reviewing the historical bases for public land and ocean management and suggest that in many ways we have been "zoning" US ocean areas for more than a century. At the same time, my recent research suggest that we are nowhere close to zoning the ocean as intensively as we have been zoning land and that there are a long list of reasons that we ought to consider allocation and management techniques other than traditional zoning techniques.

  • EEOS 122 Introduction to Environmental Policy and Management
  • EEOS 340 Planning and Land Use Law
  • EEOS 680 Coastal and Ocean Law
  • EEOS 685 Legal Foundations for Ecosystem Management
  • EEOS 718 Environmental Law and Policy


Former Students

  • Melanie Griffin M.S. Graduate 2006



John Duff Profile at


John A. Duff, The United States and the Law of the Sea Convention: Sliding Back From Accession and Ratification, [simultaneously in] 2006 - Annuaire de droit maritime 229 - 258 (2006) [and] 11:1 Ocean and Coastal Law Journal, 1-36 (2006).

P. Hoagland, M.E. Schumacher, H.L. Kite-Powell and J.A. Duff, Legal and Regulatory Framework for Siting Offshore Wind Energy Facilities , (report funded by Offshore Wind Energy Collaborative Pilot Projects Grant Program - Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Project No. 2004-OWEC-01) (June 2006).

McDorman , Bolla, Johnston and Duff, International Ocean Law: Materials and Commentaries, Carolina Academic Press (2005).

John A. Duff, A Note on the United States and the Law of the Sea: Looking Back and Moving Forward, 35 Ocean Development and International Law 195-219 (2004).

John A. Duff, Offshore Management Considerations: Law and Policy Questions Related to Fish, Oil and Wind, 31 B.C. Env'l Aff. L. Rev. 385-402 (2004).

John A. Duff, Public Shoreline Access in Maine A Citizen's Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law, (monograph produced by Marine Law Institute; Maine Sea Grant College Program; and, University of Maine Cooperative Extension) (2004).

J.A. Duff, T.S. Getchis and P. Hoagland, A Review of Legal and Policy Constraints To Aquaculture in the US Northeast , Aquaculture White Paper No. 5-NRAC Publication No. 03-005 (2003).

John A. Duff, The Coastal Zone Management Act: Reverse Preemption or Contractual Federalism?, 6:1 Ocean and Coastal Law Journal 109-118 (2001).

Prosser, Burrowes, Vestal and Duff, Harbor Management: A Legal Guide for Harbor Masters and Coastal Officials (2000 revised edition) (Maine State Planning Office & University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service).

John A. Duff, Royalty Relief Act Spurs Oil and Gas Exploration in Deep Waters of the Gulf of Mexico, in Ocean Yearbook, Volume 14, 203-231 ( University of Chicago Press 2000).

George V. Galdorisi and Kevin R. Vienna, Beyond the Law of the Sea: New Directions for U.S. Oceans Policy. Reviewed by John A. Duff, 30 Ocean Development and International Law 82-87(1999).

John A. Duff and Kristen Fletcher, Augmenting the Public Trust: The Secretary of State's Efforts to Create a Public Trust Ecosystem Regime in Mississippi, 67 Mississippi Law Journal 645- 694 (Spring 1998).

John A. Duff and William C. Harrison, The Law, Policy, and Politics of Gillnet Restrictions in the State Waters of the Gulf of Mexico, 9 St. Thomas Law Review 389-417 (Winter 1997).

John A. Duff, Recent Applications of United States Laws to Conserve Marine Species Worldwide: Should Trade Sanctions Be Mandatory?. 2 Ocean and Coastal Law Journal 1-31 (1996).

John A. Duff, UNCLOS and the Deep Seabed Mining Regime: The Risks of Refuting the Treaty, 19 Suffolk Transnational Law Review 1-66 (1995).