While marine ecosystems play a major role in the regulation of climate and our Planet's ability to cope with climate change, they are also critical for providing food, livelihood, and income to billions of people worldwide. Unfortunately, they face increasing threats due to anthropic activities. In many regions, various types of agreements have historically organized and commodified the access to the resources of the Exclusive Economic Zones of coastal States to distant-water fishing nations. These longstanding commercial mechanisms can take the form of either private agreements between a State and a fishing company, public agreements between two States, or joint ventures between two companies. They are used by a variety of industrialized fishing countries and blocs such as the European Union, the USA, Russia, Japan, and China to access fisheries resources in the waters of the Global South. In Europe, these fishing agreements most often take the form of “public access agreements”, i.e. agreements that are negotiated between a coastal State (e.g. Senegal or Madagascar) and the European Commission, on behalf of the European fleets. These public fishing access agreements have become an integral part of the Common Fisheries Policy, granting EU vessels access to the bountiful waters of Africa, and, to a much lower extent, Oceania. Unlike for other fishing nations such as Russia, Turkey or China — whose severe impacts on local ecosystems and coastal communities are suspected but poorly documented — the analysis of European public fishing access agreements is facilitated by a relatively high level of transparency and data availability. This paper examines and questions global fishing access agreements through the lens of the public agreements established between the European Union and African countries. Specifically, we contextualize the property and management of marine resources at sea, and provide some of the most up-to-date information regarding the state-of play of EU public fishing access agreements. The notion of “surplus”, which is at the heart of many global fishing agreements, is also explored and challenged. We conclude our analysis with three avenues for researchers and policy makers: i) the development of more complex, multi-user regional models as the scientific basis for fishing access agreements, ii) the need to increase research investments and transparency in order to develop such models, and iii) an improvement in monitoring, control and surveillance necessary to drive practices in the Global South towards more sustainability and equity.
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