The oceans are heavily overfished, and the greatest challenges to effective fisheries management are not technical but political and economic. In Beyond the Tragedy in Global Fisheries, D. G. Webster describes how the political economy of fisheries has evolved and highlights patterns that are linked to sustainable transitions in specific fisheries. Grounded in the concept of responsive governance, Webster's interdisciplinary analysis goes beyond the conventional view of the "tragedy of the commons". Using her Action Cycle/Structural Context framework, she maps long-running patterns that cycle between depletion and rebuilding in a process that she terms the management treadmill. Webster documents the management treadmill in settings that range from small coastal fishing communities to international fisheries that span entire oceans.
She identifies the profit disconnect, in which economic incentives are out of sync with sustainable use, and the power disconnect, in which those who experience the costs of overexploitation are politically marginalized. She examines how these disconnects shaped the economics of expansion and documents how political systems failed to prevent related cycles of serial resource depletion. Webster also traces the increasing use of restrictive management in response to worsening fisheries crises and the emergence of new, noncommercial interests that demand greater management but also generate substantial conflict. She finds that the management treadmill is speeding up with population growth and economic development, and so concludes that sustainable fisheries can only exist within a sustainable global economic system.
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D. G. Webster is Associate Professor in the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College and the co-author of Adaptive Governance: The Dynamics of Atlantic Fisheries Management (MIT Press).