Many African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries sell fishing licenses to distant water fleets. Fishing agreements have the potential to improve the performance of local fishing sectors. They create income that can be reinvested into domestic industries and often go along with partnerships in management and enforcement. However, many fishing agreements run a serious risk of undermining sustainable resource management. The present study critically reviews trends in distant water fishing as well as identifies those tropical host countries most dependent on fishing agreements. It is shown that traditional, more responsible distant water fleets (DWFs) are being displaced by less responsible, low-cost DWFs and that the most vulnerable host countries are small coastal states with large exclusive economic zones that lack the ability to benefit from value adding processes associated with fishing. The results suggest that the once-promising concept of fishing agreements is gradually posing a threat to both economic development and environmental sustainability of ACP countries.