Certifying small-scale fisheries: Political economies of assessment and surveillance

Authors: Abigail Bennett*, Michigan State University, Lisa Campbell, Duke University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Coastal and Marine, Qualitative Research
Keywords: market-based environmental governance, seafood certification, small-scale fisheries
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores how assessment and surveillance practices in sustainable seafood certification reveal a governmental rationality that diverges from the traditional characterization of transnational market-based governance. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a seafood ecolabel, aims to expand its coverage to one third of global marine catch by 2030, according to its Strategic Plan. As part of this expansion, MSC has outlined a strategy to remedy the persistent underrepresentation of small-scale fisheries and fisheries from the global south. Yet – according to MSC – small-scale and global south fisheries lack the resources, data, and governance systems necessary to meet the program’s rigorous certification standards. MSC’s 2012 certification of the Mexican small-scale spiny lobster fishery provided an opportunity to study how competing exigencies of rigor, transparency, and inclusiveness were negotiated in practice and what the process might reveal about the evolution of seafood certification as neoliberal governance. An empirical investigation of the assessment, certification, and subsequent surveillance of the spiny lobster fishery documented how multiple actors navigated a certification process that was protracted and fraught with challenges. The subtle and minute maneuvers that served to overcome these challenges entangled state, community, NGO, and academic actors. The multitude of historically-rooted political economic engagements that constituted the certification process invoked notions of ethics, pride, and recognition. This case study underscores the need to move beyond a conceptualization of market-based environmental certification as operating beyond or in place of a hollowed-out state to further account for the mutually constitutive roles of state, community, and market.

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