Property is not Sovereignty: Excluding small-scale fishers through trade standards in market-based management regimes

Authors: Hekia Bodwitch*, McGill University
Topics: Economic Geography, Indigenous Peoples, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: indigenous, fisheries, New Zealand, settlement, ITQ, catch shares, market conservation, sovereignty, food safety, trade
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 1986, the New Zealand government privatized the nation’s fisheries and, overnight, made thousands of indigenous fishers’ livelihood practices illegal. Fishers protested their dispossession, and in the 1992 Fisheries Settlement, the government allocated commercial fishing rights to Maori collectively, in the form of Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ). Today, Maori hold over 50% of the nation’s fishing quota rights. Yet few Maori are fishing, processing, or selling fish. Drawing on ethnographic research with Maori fishers between 2014 and 2018, this paper describes how, despite holding quota, Maori continue to experience conditions of enclosure in their attempts to reinstate small-scale fishing operations. Although characterized as a market-based mechanism for fishery conservation, to promote compliance, ITQ system implementation also granted government an increased authority to govern fish processing and trade practices, formerly controlled by Maori. Fisher’s compliance with state monitoring initiatives increase production costs, effectively enclosing market access for those without access to outside sources of capital, even if the individual holds a property right to fish. For Maori groups, the costs of altering generations-old fish processing techniques to comply with new standards make it more immediately lucrative to manage their quota rights as an investment asset, rather than a fish access right. Taking place alongside debates about the possibility for formalized resource access rights to promote local development, this case serves as a reminder that property, or the right to access a resource in a particular way, does not also convey sovereignty, or the authority to determine how that resource is governed.

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