A Systematic Approach to Studying Fisheries Governance

Published date01 May 2012
Date01 May 2012
A Systematic Approach to Studying
Fisheries Governance
Xavier Basurto and
Mateja Nenadovic
Duke University
How can policies for governing marine f‌isheries become more effective? How can we engage in developing a new
science of f‌isheries governance that promotes knowledge accumulation and collective learning? We look into these
issues by reviewing the current social-ecological status of marine f‌isheries, common policy approaches in place to
govern them, and key learned lessons and shortcomings. While great efforts have been made towards understanding
marine governance in the last 50 years, if we are to meet the current and upcoming challenges facing global f‌isheries,
we need to engage with systematic knowledge accumulation about governance performance. To this end we report
on a novel classif‌icatory framework which, while nascent, could offer the potential to help us move in that direction.
Fisheries are an important source of food and income for
about 8 per cent of the world’s population (520 million
people) who depend directly or indirectly on the f‌ishing
sector (FAO, 2009). As a commodity, f‌ish and f‌ish-related
products are the most highly traded food items globally
(FAO, 2009). Adequate f‌isheries governance is necessary
to guarantee the sustainability of f‌isheries-related activi-
ties and overall ocean health (Gelcich et al., 2010;
Jackson et al., 2001; Worm et al., 2006). Everywhere in
the planet oceans shape people’s lives whether they eat
f‌ish or not, and whether or not they have ever set foot
on a sandy beach or experienced the mesmerizing
beauty of a coral reef. Covering some 71 per cent of the
Earth and holding more than 97 per cent of surface
water, oceans regulate climate, buffer carbon dioxide
production, enable global commerce, provide us with a
number of renewable and non-renewable resources and
serve as a source of inspiration, recreation and discovery.
Despite the global importance of marine f‌isheries and
important advances in policy analysis (Costello et al.,
2008), we lack a policy f‌isheries science capable of pro-
viding clear guidelines towards understanding why some
policies work better than others and under what condi-
tions. The goal of this article is to call attention to a
novel approach that could lead policy analysts in that
direction. To develop our argument we review the most
current global f‌isheries literature and brief‌ly summarize
the main policy approaches in use to govern global
f‌isheries. Our review illustrates, on the one hand, the
complexity and magnitude of the social-ecological
challenges facing global f‌isheries today, and on the
other, the availability of numerous policy tools and
lessons learned regarding the performance of policies.
Unfortunately, these lessons lack integration, making it
challenging to develop a systematic understanding and
appropriate metrics of policy performance. We argue
that addressing the challenges facing global f‌isheries
today demands a systematic approach to governance
analysis and that, as in any other science, the basis lies
in a classif‌icatory system capable of organizing knowl-
edge and enabling knowledge accumulation and its
eventual integration for faster learning.
In the context of f‌isheries governance such a classif‌ica-
tory system should show at least two main design char-
acteristics: to recognize f‌isheries as complex adaptive
systems; and to treat social and ecological factors as
equally important from the outset. As a conclusion we
hypothesize that scholars working towards building a
classif‌icatory system – a very ambitious goal in itself –
and who are capable of addressing the collective action
problems inherent in developing such a multidisciplinary
classif‌icatory system, will be in a better position to
address f‌isheries governance challenges successfully than
those groups that do not engage in such an enterprise.
To elaborate on the above, we provide a brief review
of the status of global f‌isheries and the main policy
approaches used to govern them. In the f‌inal section we
present and brief‌ly describe what such a classif‌icatory
system could look like, using a proof of concept study
as an illustration, and end with some cautionary notes.
Global Policy Volume 3 . Issue 2 . May 2012
ª2012 London School of Economics and Political Science and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Global Policy (2012) 3:2 doi: 10.1111/j.1758-5899.2011.00094.x
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