Transforming the Fisheries: Neoliberalism, Nature, and the Commons

Transforming the Fisheries: Neoliberalism, Nature, and the Commons

Transforming the Fisheries: Neoliberalism, Nature, and the Commons

Transforming the Fisheries: Neoliberalism, Nature, and the Commons

Synopsis

There is now widespread agreement that fish stocks are severely depletedand fishing activity must be limited. At the same time, the promiseof the "green" economy appears to offer profitable new opportunitiesfor a sustainable seafood industry. What do these seemingly contradictoryideas of natural limits and "green" growth mean in practice?What do they tell us more generally about current transformations tothe way nature is valued and managed? And who loses and benefitsfrom these new ecological arrangements? Far from abstract policyconsiderations, Patrick Bresnihan shows how new approaches to environmental management are transforming the fisheries, generating novel forms of exclusion in the process.
Transforming the Fisheries examines how scientific, economic, and regulatory responses to the problem of overfishing have changed over the past twenty years. Based on fieldwork in a commercial fishingport in Ireland, Bresnihan weaves together ethnography, science, history,and social theory to explore the changing relationships betweenknowledge, nature, and the market. For Bresnihan, many of the keyconcepts that govern contemporary environmental thinking--suchas scarcity, sustainability, the commons, and enclosure--should bereconsidered in light of the collapse of global fish stocks and the differentways this problem is being addressed. Only by considering theseconcepts anew can we begin to reinvent the ecological commons weneed for the future.

Excerpt

The Ghost of Malthus

In 1998 ecologist Garrett Hardin wrote a sympathetic reappraisal of Thomas Malthus’s text An Essay on the Principle of Population, published two hundred years earlier (1998). He relates a parable that Malthus added to the second edition. in the parable, a man comes to the table of “nature’s mighty feast” and asks if he can have a seat. Some of the guests have sympathy for him and make room. Immediately, other “intruders” appear demanding that they also be admitted to the feast. Malthus concludes, “The order and harmony of the feast is disturbed, the plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity; and the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall, and by the clamorous importunity of those, who are justly enraged at not finding the provision which they had been taught to expect” (Malthus 1803, 531; Hardin 1998, 181). the guests thus learn the lesson that the “great mistress of the feast” already knew: they must refuse any newcomers when the table is already full.

Although this anecdote was taken out from subsequent editions, it remains a powerful metaphor for both supporters and critics of Malthusian theories of overpopulation and the “naturalization” of scarcity (Dale 2012; Mehta 2010). Thirty years before he invoked Malthus’s story, Hardin had already given it new life through his own parable, “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Published in 1968, Hardin’s essay was only one of many stark warnings about impending social and environmental catastrophe if rapid population growth . . .

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