In 1988, members of a research project at the Institute of Geography of the University of Hamburg on “Conflicts of Maritime Delimitation and Fisheries in the Wider Caribbean” became aware that the compilation of data on the separate islands and lands concerned was missing a major point: the fundamental lack of interregional information, and not only about fisheries. The area treated in this book comprises the islands and the South and Central American coasts, excluding the United States and Mexico for reasons of space. The book examines the legislation produced between the United Nations’ Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 and 1993, when a new agreement was awaiting the required 60th signature for ratification.
The study found general ignorance about regional problems. The regions inhabitants had no ideas about a possible future course for their maritime interests, or they supported policies prejudicial to them and detrimental to the region. Maritime issues fused with issues of national territory and national sovereignty and claims to maritime resources for political and strategic advantage, put forward in the total absence of reliable information.
Figure 2 in the book is a table of “National Claims to Maritime Jurisdiction” in the wider Caribbean, asserting various rights over distances ranging from 12 to 200 nautical miles from a “baseline” of complicated construction. Some include an “Exclusive Economic Zone” and some an “Exclusive Fishing Zone.” A map shows maritime delimitation, cast like a net over the Caribbean, with a miniscule area left as “high seas.” The text reviews treaties, the laws and regulations of the various sovereignties, a list of bilateral agreements, and information on marine resource management.
A “country profile” gives the extent of the area, with demographic and economic data, including GDP, per capita income, and dominant industries. Quantitative data separate, by a wide margin, the largest nations from the smallest and the richest from the poorest. The book is a first stock-taking of a manageable area, rational and consistent.
But as the problem is allocating migrating fish and other species whose liquid habitat straddles boundaries, so the meaning of the numbers under any other heading is fluid. The amount and distribution of income does not call for comparison but for assessment. Cooperation among claimants regarding their maritime affairs is in everyone’s interest, as is being demonstrated these days in New York.
Editor Beate Ratter and her team, along with their Caribbean contacts, are to be congratulated on their outstanding cooperative scholarship. The translation from the German, while not always the most exact, is nonetheless readily comprehensible, a testimony to the marvelous tolerance of English.