Making an environmental market, unmaking adaptive capacity: Species commodification in the New England groundfishery


This article demonstrates how market-focused natural resource management can reduce adaptive capacity to environmental change. It describes attempts to standardize socio-ecological phenomena in the New England groundfishery for purposes of legal accountability and the development of environmental markets. Industry flexibility across harvested species has supported a range of informal social networks for the exchange of information and other goods and services. Federal catch share policy, associated species population assessments, and transferable harvest quotas neglect social and ecological diversity that figure centrally in adaptation strategies. New quota markets generate a cascade of impacts, including intensified capital investment, threats of industry consolidation, increased reliance on limited capabilities of fisheries science, more acute regulatory uncertainties, narrowing of species options, smaller and less predictable profit margins, shifts in industry expectations for the future, and changes in fishing practice. Presumed market incentives for resource conservation are weakened. State and non-profit interventions to protect marine resources and local fishing-dependent collectivities may have limited immediate impact, but still play important roles in the longer term. Permit banks, alternative seafood marketing, and reformist regulatory proposals maintain institutional diversity and invigorate informal social relations capable of decentralized information sharing and collective action, which are essential to more adaptive environmental governance.

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