Neoliberalism in the oceans: ‘‘rationalization,’’ property rights,

Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on privatization and marketization, is becoming a dominant mode of ocean governance. In this paper I show that neoliberalism in ocean fisheries has a specific form and history based on the ways that, for the last 50 years, regulation debates have centered on the question of the commons. Focus on the role of the commons in problems such as overfishing and overcapacity has contributed to convergence of different viewpoints around neoliberal, market-oriented approaches that try to harness the profit motive to conservation and economic efficiency. I trace the idea of property rights in fisheries from the point in the 1950s when economists first identified the commons as the underlying cause of fisheries problems, through extended political jurisdiction, to recent emphasis on the benefits of common property. Despite their differences, proponents of these different viewpoints all take property as their central problematic and contribute to the idea that creating market incentives, by specifying property rights, is the foundation upon which proper use of ocean resources rests. I illustrate these ideas with a description of the shift toward privatization in the fisheries of the US portion of the North Pacific, which have a direct annual value of almost $1 billion. Neoliberal approaches to fisheries regulation are not simply spillover from larger trends toward market-based governance, but instead are influenced by the ways that past policy orientations toward fisheries have centered on enclosing the oceans within carefully delimited regimes of property rights, be those regimes of collective, state, or private control. Download the article as PDF

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