The Politics of Property in Industrial Fisheries

01 January 2013

Fisheries systems are widely considered to be ‘in crisis’ in both economic and ecological terms, a considerable concern given their significance to food security, international trade and employment the world over. The most common explanation for the crisis suggests that it is caused by weak and illiberal property regimes.

It follows that correcting the crisis involves the creation of private property relations that will restore equilibrium between the profitable productive function of fishing firms and fish stocks in order to maximize ‘rent’. In this approach, coastal states are seen as passive, weak, failed and corrupted observers and facilitators of the fisheries crisis, unless they institute private property relations. This paper offers an alternative analysis by re-examining longstanding debates over the politics of property and of rent relations in industrial fisheries from the perspective of historical materialism. It identifies coastal states as modern landed property which allows an exploration of the existence of, and struggles over, the extraction of ground-rent from the surplus value created in capitalist fisheries. As on land, property in the sea is a site of social struggle and will always remain so under capitalism, no matter which juridical actor/ interest holds those property rights.

School of Business and Management, Queen Mary, University of London. Liam Campling’s main research interests are in international political economy and uneven development, commodity chain analysis (with an empirical emphasis on tuna), the history of capitalism, and the political economy of development in island states in the Western Indian and Pacific oceans. He is a Book Reviews Section Co-editor of Journal of Agrarian Change, and a Corresponding Editor of Historical Materialism. He also works part time on trade policy and its politics for the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.

Professor of International Development and Globalization, Geography Department, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Professor Havice’s work is on the political economy of resource regulation, production and consumption in natural resource systems. Much of her empirical research is on the tuna industry that spans the Pacific Rim. Campling and Havice have co-authored articles that have appeared in Journal of Agrarian Change, Global Environmental Politics and Environment and Planning A. They also recently co-edited a 12 article special issue of the Journal of Agrarian Change on the political economy and ecology of capture fisheries. Both remain committed to policy relevant research and writing on fisheries property and access, the right to food and international trade dynamics.

Food Sovereignty: a critical dialogue, 14 - 15 September, New Haven.