Who’s to Blame?: The Multiplicity of New England’s Groundfish Crisis

Authors: Catherine King*, University of North Carolina Asheville
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Marine and Coastal Resources
Keywords: multiplicity, fisheries, crisis, ontologies
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 18
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This project analyzes the active conceptualization and enaction of the management of the New England’s groundfish fishery “crisis,” illuminating the multiplicity characteristic of crisis ontologies: how an actant experiences the crisis depends significantly on how the actant understands the groundfish itself. Discourse on this fishery has commonly focused on narratives of crisis and blame, criticizing six targets: the fishermen⁠, the seafood market, the fisheries managers, the environmental non-governmental organizations, the fisheries scientists, and the "environment." Mistrust and hostility between factions of scientists, managers, fishermen, industry, and governmental and non-governmental representatives are fomented by allegiances to and insistence upon singular conceptualizations and narratives of the fishery. However, debates over ontological conflicts consume time and effort, limiting proposed solutions to the understanding of the actants whose narrative claims dominate. Seeing the simultaneous multiples that exist in the fishery is a useful for identifying common goals for all actants in the groundfish fishery, refocusing the debate away from who or what is at fault and toward appropriate experimental and adaptive approaches posited by Ecosystems-Based Management theory. As managers and scientists, in conjunction with stakeholders, develop Ecosystems-Based Fisheries Management as an intervention for the crisis, insights from this research on the sources of conflict and contradiction that feed into the crisis must be considered.

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