A Mouse Can Roar: Small Island States, the United Nations, and the End of Free-for-All Fishing on the High Seas

31 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2007

See all articles by Peter Prows

Peter Prows

New York University School of Law


The oceans are in crisis and there might seem to be little urgency for action. A recent study published in Science gravely predicted the complete global collapse of commercial fisheries by 2048. Scarcely a week goes by without alarming news of oil spills, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, or overfishing - all testaments to the damage we are wreaking to the planet and its oceans. But while the trends are ominous, time remains for those who would act now to change course. This article traces the story of the effort of an unlikely small island country, the Republic of Palau (together with a coterie of diplomats, political leaders, law students, non-governmental organization (NGO) activists, and a minor celebrity or two), to end the reckless practice of deep sea bottom trawling in international waters. Part I of this article traces the role of small island countries in the development of international environmental law and challenges the traditional view that these countries cannot be full members of the international community of states. Part II traces Palau's bumpy road to nationhood and UN membership following World War II, as well as the country's ever-present linkage between the environment and the national interest. Part III recounts how destructive fishing made its way onto the agenda of Palau and the General Assembly, resulting in a consensus that the precautionary approach should apply for all high seas bottom fisheries. The article concludes with reflections on the responsibility of every country, large and small, for the long-term health of the ocean. In a world where the big and powerful often reign supreme, it is important to remember that size is not everything among sovereigns and that good ideas still matter.

Keywords: United Nations, Palau, environmental law, destructive fishing, high seas, UNCLOS, tragedy of the commons

JEL Classification: K32, K33, Q22

Suggested Citation

Prows, Peter, A Mouse Can Roar: Small Island States, the United Nations, and the End of Free-for-All Fishing on the High Seas. Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1033333

Peter Prows (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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