The Pressures and Fate of the Continental Shelves is Both a National and International Responsibility

Marine fisheries represent a significant, but finite, natural resource for coastal countries. The majority of the catches in some offshore areas are not primarily by the coastal countries concerned. Most of the fisheries off the coast of Mauritania (Figure 29), for example, are by countries from Europe and Asia (Japan and South Korea are in the ‘others’ group). According to this estimation, Mauritania only landed about 10% of the total catch in 2002, with The Netherlands as the nation with the largest catch (23%) in this zone. For developing countries, the intensive fisheries by foreign countries and climate change may become severe for income, livelihoods and food security for coastal communities. Fishery products are becoming one of the most important rising exports from developing countries (FAO, 2006). The fishery net exports of developing countries (i.e. the total value of their exports less the total value of their imports) showed a continuing rising trend in recent decades, growing from US$4.6 billion in 1984 to US$16.0 billion in 1994 and to US$20.4 billion in 2004.

Figure 29:Intensity of fisheries off the coast of Mauritania, West-Africa. While the country’s often impoverished coastal population is strongly dependent on the fisheries, the largest share of the fishing is done by an international fishing fleet.


TextFigure 30:Deep waters within and beyond areas of national jurisdiction in East Africa. The figure demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of marine areas under national jurisdiction in East Africa are deeper than 200 metres (dark blue). Areas in red indicate where the geology/geomorphology might justify (subject to further research and interpretation) a submission/claim to be made by coastal states individually or jointly to increase their national seabed and subsoil areas, which, in turn, may be of major economic potential.

Waters below 200 metres depth cover around 336 million square kilometres world-wide, and can be found in areas within and beyond national jurisdiction. Overview analyses  show that the total area of national waters deeper than 200 metres is around 124 million square kilometres, i.e. about five times larger than the total of national waters shallower than 200 metres (approximately 25 million square kilometres). In accordance with the provisions set out in Article 76 (Definition of the continental shelf) of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 (UNCLOS), certain geologic and physigraphic conditions (more precisely sediment thickness and/or change in slope gradient) of the continental margin might give a coastal State the right to delineate the outer limits of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles (i.e. the limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone). This applies only to the seabed and the subsoil of the legal continental shelf, not to the water column. The procedure to identify whether there is a scope for such a claim, and to compile and interpret the necessary data for a submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf set up under UNCLOS, is complex and time-limited, as submissions have to be made by the year 2009 for most countries, and support is given through the UNEP Shelf Programme.

< Previous  |   Next >