An Oceans Abcdarium created by the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz, Germany


Valeria von Baeckmann

According to the UN, at least 90% of the world’s fishers are employed in small-scale fisheries. Local food security is often dependent on these small businesses, which are based on the use of common resources. However, this economy is endangered by what is known as ocean grabbing—the harvesting of seafood by large, commercial fleets for export. These fleets often come from the Global North, plundering the resources of the Global South. Their practices are unsustainable and often illegal, but even some official fishery agreements, for example between European and African countries, promote exploitation: Only 6% of the value of the catch are paid to the African countries whose marine territories are exploited. The fleets themselves pay only about one quarter of this, while the remaining three quarters come from the European taxpayers. African countries thus lose about $1.3 billion each year to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. This problem is especially visible in Senegal, where a single large trawler can catch in just one day the equivalent of 50 local fishing boats over the course of a year. But the oceans have more riches to offer than just seafood: coastal resources like oil and gas are also exploited, driving the small fishers away from their fishing grounds. And there are even bigger plans for the future: as mining on land is becoming less profitable and increasingly difficult due to the depletion of resources and environmental and geopolitical problems, many governments are looking for alternatives. Deep sea mining, the extraction of minerals from the seabed, is becoming increasingly attractive. Governments have not yet come to an international agreement on binding guidelines for deep sea mining yet. The impact this might have on global wealth distribution, not to mention marine ecosystems, remains to be seen.

Sources: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022”, Cambridge 2022.
p. 21, 55

Africa Progress Panel, “Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions. Africa Progress Report”, 2014.S. 85 ff.

Mesmain, Michéle, “Ocean Grabbing: Plundering a Common Resource”, The Reference Shelf. U.S. National Debate Topic 2014-2015: The Ocean, Amenia (NY) 2014, p. 56-59.

Hallgren, Axel and Anders Hansson, “Conflicting Narratives of Deep Sea Mining”, Sustainability, 13, 2021.