Urban Oceania

Exploring Urban Social Change in Oceania

Reading Group Summary: July 11th, 2022

Havice, E. (2018). Unsettled sovereignty and the sea: Mobilities and more-than-territorial configurations of state power. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(5), 1280-1297.

Lucas Watt

Havice’s article is the second the reading group has discussed in our four week focus on Ocean Sovereignty and Territoriality in the Pacific. Havice’s article discusses sovereignty over mobile maritime resources in a context of three kinds of mobility.

  1. Movement of highly migratory tuna.
  2. Mobility of vessels hunting them through the sea.
  3. Mobility of global capital.

In this context of high mobility, sovereignty over maritime resources does not conform to the the territorial trap that everything within a nation’s borders is exclusive property. Rather sovereignty over maritime resources is defined by mobility. Tuna that crosses the boundaries of multiple nation’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) cannot be owned or managed by one nation. Fishing vessels are mobile nations-in-miniture. Vessels carry the rights, regulations, and access rights, of those nations whose flags they fly. Global capital and how it flows to secure access rights to ocean space (or fishing time/days) also has a role in legitimizing the forms of resource sovereignty that it is complying with. In arguing that sovereignty over mobile resources is defined by mobility, Havice dissects the sovereignty-territory relation to claim that sovereignty is more-than-territorial.

Havice presents how sovereignty over maritime resources has been defined by mobility throughout the 20th century in the context of the Pacific tuna industry. Initially the mobility of highly migratory tuna compelled the United States to assert that it’s fishing vessels should be allowed to enter into other nation’s EEZs to fish for Tuna. In taking this position it opposed the principle of EEZ sovereignty established in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The United States protected its fishing vessels through a number of acts in the 1960s-1970s

  • Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: “authorizing the United States to embargo fisheries products from any country that seized a U.S. fishing vessel taking highly migratory species without a license.” (pg. 8)
  • Fishermen’s Protective Act:” The U.S. government paid penalties imposed on U.S. vessels seized for fishing in foreign EEZs without following licensing requirements.” (pg. 8)
  • The Pelly Amendment: “Prohibited the United States from providing defense assistance to any country that seized of fined a U.S. vessel for fishing beyond twelve miles from its coast.” (pg. 8)

The United States seem to change their stance after Kiribati negotiated access agreements with the USSR in 1985. The United States negotiated with Pacific island nations access to their territorial waters. However, to abide by their earlier stance enshrined in the Magnuson act that migratory Tuna couldn’t be owned by any one nation, the United States required the Pacific Island nations to join together to negotiate a multilateral agreement. The United States negotiated with the Forum Fishing Agency (FFA) which held the various Pacific nations as members since 1979. This agreement became the South Pacific Tuna Treaty of 1988. The treaty gave United States fishing vessels access to the defined territory indicated below. In return Pacific nations would receive revenues from the United States divided in a way that accounted for amount of fish caught in a Pacific nation’s EEZ. The treaty also provided a financial structure that ensured a certain proportion of revenue would be equally shared amongst all Pacific nations.

The South Pacific Tuna Treaty seemingly gave Pacific nations a greater ability to express sovereignty over their maritime EEZs. Havice argues this only tells part of the story. She argues that the FFA could assert their sovereignty and thus increase prices to access their waters (see Vessel Day Schemes (VDS) and the Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA)). However, the role of global capital started playing a greater role in defining sovereignty over maritime resources. Private capital started filling the gap between what the U.S was willing to pay to sustain the South Pacific Tuna Treaty and what was required. Global capital also flowed towards companies with vessels registered under particular national flags to reap the benefits that those nations had negotiated with the FFA (US or other nations depending on favourability). In this way sovereignty over resources continued to be defined by mobility despite the increased prominence of Pacific nations in asserting their rights in the maritime resource space. Nation states merely exert and use their power in this context of mobility.

Havice’s article is directed towards arguing that resource sovereignty is defined by mobility. However I think there are points of comparison to last weeks article by Marlene Dégremont. In my previous week’s summary I stated that Dégremont (2022) argues:

State and non state entities can assert power and influence over ocean space in different ways by being a part of emerging alliances attached to emerging ocean classifications such as Large Scale Marine Protected Areas (LSMPAs) and Large Scale Marine Managed Areas (LSMMAs). This can functionally affect how the ocean is governed in relation to conservation, security, economic use, and so on. How ocean actors engage with each other and assert their influence in these alliances results is what Dégremont calls “functional sovereignty”.

Fishing treaty areas or bilateral fishing agreements are forms of ocean classification that also provide opportunities for state and non state actors (insert global capital here too) to influence conservation, security, and economic use, in ways that is akin to functional sovereignty.

South Pacific Tuna Treaty Boundary: Image Credit – Environment Hawaii


  • Lucas Watt

    I am a Post-Doctoral researcher on the ERC-funded TransOcean Project at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Norway. My portion of the project sets out to analyze maritime mobilities, exchange, and conservation, in the increasingly securitised region of Oceania. I graduated with a PhD from the School of Media and Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. My ethnographic fieldwork in Suva Fiji analyses how rural-urban migrants living in “informal settlements” articulate tradition in urban spaces.

One response to “Reading Group Summary: July 11th, 2022”

  1. Asinate Mausio Avatar
    Asinate Mausio

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article, Lucas- I have just published a paper with Island Studies titled ‘A South-South Tango: China’s Soft Power Relations with Fiji since 1975’ and it mentions anticipatory geographies as well. Just letting you know.

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