Sovereignty at Sea: the United States, Ecuador, and the Fisheries Dispute in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, 1945–75

In: Diplomatica
Shaine Scarminach Department of History, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA,

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In the early 1970s, violent encounters between Ecuador’s navy and U.S. fishermen off the coast of South America reignited a long-running dispute over tuna fisheries in the region. The dispute centered on a basic question about who could fish in the waters off Ecuador’s coast. U.S. fishermen believed they had a right to fish the area, while Ecuadorians understood the waters as their natural patrimony. Yet despite this heated debate, U.S. and Ecuadorian officials appeared willing to settle the dispute. Nevertheless, repeated attempts at diplomatic negotiations failed to produce a durable solution. The difficulty owed in large part to the ocean environment itself. Competing conceptions of the ocean and a range of conflicting interests together frustrated diplomatic efforts. Ultimately, the fisheries dispute between the United States and Ecuador demonstrates how the environment can complicate international relations.

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