Governing Global Fisheries: Commons, Community Law and Third-Country Coastal Waters

Publication Date01 September 2008
AuthorEmma Witbooi
Date01 September 2008
University College London, UK
Key fish stocks off the West African coast are currently overexploited, raising biologi-
cal alarm-bells and threatening the socioeconomic well-being of regional inhabitants.
International law obliges states to cooperate towards the sustainable use of fisheries in
all waters, as reflected in the fisheries management policy of the European Union (EU).
To date, however, these legal regimes have failed to secure the goal of sustainable
fishing. This is particularly so in West African coastal waters, where various foreign
fleets (including of the EU) enjoy access in terms of legally sanctioned arrangements.
In this article I investigate the failure of international law to facilitate the realization
of sustainable fisheries in these waters, referring to EU–Senegal fisheries relations as
an illustrative case study. In doing this, I discuss the difficulties of sustainable fisheries
management in light of their common resource nature and outline the legal responses
to these challenges. Drawing on empirical research, I identify the manner in which
the international system sanctions unsustainable fisheries relations between Western
nations and developing coastal states and argue that the regime must be re-crafted
(together with the domestic systems shaped by it) to better facilitate interactions that
are not exploitative but rather genuinely cooperative towards the goal of sustainable
bilateral fisheries agreements; common natural resource management; developing
coastal states; European Union; fisheries law; fisheries management; Senegal;
SOCIAL &LEGAL STUDIES Copyright © 2008 SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore,
0964 6639, Vol. 17(3), 369–386
DOI: 10.1177/0964663908093969
IN THIS article I examine bilateral fisheries agreements between the Euro-
pean Union (EU) and developing coastal countries with a view to explor-
ing the role and impact of these legal instruments, with particular reference
to sustainability. Specifically, in light of the conservancy thrust of the legal
framework within which they are concluded and legitimated, I interrogate the
extent to which they are informed by and foster the objective of sustainable
fishing. I argue that, contrary to their intended purposes, these agreements
primarily serve to realize the parties’ respective socioeconomic self-interests,
as influenced by their shared colonial legacy of natural resource exploitation
and unequal dependency.
The difficulty in sustainably managing marine fisheries stems from their
common resource nature. Ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources
is a key component of sustainable development, a goal that developing states
in particular are struggling to define and achieve, both within their fisheries
sector and more broadly. The successful pursuit of sustainable fishing not
only necessitates the rational domestic management of coastal fisheries, but
requires the foreign nations that access these stocks to cooperate with the
coastal states towards this end. Fishing interactions between the EU and
West African coastal states, however, have traditionally not followed this
route. Instead, they mirror patterns of natural resource (ab)use established
under past colonial relations and subsequently perpetuated by trade and aid
policies. This is reflected in EU–Senegalese fishing relations, which I use as
an illustrative case study to analyse this socio-legal phenomenon, drawing
on my fieldwork in Senegal. I conclude that, rather than functioning as legal
instruments of conservancy, these agreements operate as means to inequitably
promote the self-interests of the parties involved. They run contrary to the
sustainability tenet of international fisheries law and expose its weaknesses.
In my research for this article I employed a combination of literature-based,
desktop research with empirical work. My empirical research primarily
comprised gathering and analysing data for the case study of EU–Senegalese
fisheries relations. I chose this case study because I believe that the impact of
these fishing relations, particularly through the most recent bilateral agree-
ment, exhibit the operation of the key theoretical conclusions that I draw in
this article. At the same time, the case study provides readers with an in-depth
insight into an example of the issue that I discuss in this article and renders
an otherwise (possibly) unfamiliar area of inter-state interaction more access-
ible (Mitchell, 1983: 192). The case study is not intended to be representative
of West African or other developing coastal states’ bilateral fishing relations
with the EU (or other Western fishing nations); it is merely illustrative.
I selected this particular case study for two main reasons. Firstly, Senegal
was the first African country to conclude a bilateral fisheries agreement with

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