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From Policy Instruments to Action Arenas: The Right to Self-Govern Under Conditions of Social-Ecological Change in the Nova Scotian Lobster Fisheries

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Barnett, Allain J.
Conference: Commoners and the Changing Commons: Livelihoods, Environmental Security, and Shared Knowledge, the Fourteenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
Location: Mt. Fuji, Japan
Conf. Date: June 3-7
Date: 2013
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/8883
Sector: Fisheries
Region: North America
Subject(s): common pool resources
collective action
social-ecological systems
Abstract: "To govern the commons, states often focus on structures or instruments, such as delegated co-management or tradable quotas. This research argues that this emphasis often presents a trade-off with making investments into socially just action arenas. I revisit the case of the Port Lameron groundfish and lobster fishery in Southwest Nova Scotia, Canada, originally explored by Elinor Ostrom in Governing the Commons (1990) based on research by Davis (1984). In the spring and summer of 2012, I conducted ethnographic field research consisting of participant observation, face-to-face surveys, and semi-structured interviews. I pay particular attention to how Ostroms design principles have interacted and changed over time, using primary literature from Maine as a counter-example. The results of this research illustrate the fragilities of this system, and provide a dynamic application of Ostroms design principles. In particular, I show that how the combination of a lack of recognition of customary institutions and weak collective-choice arrangements have led to rules that are not congruent with local conditions. These interactions are mutually reinforcing, as incongruent rules are a disincentive for harvesters to participate in decision-making, which reinforces the need for strong top-down governance. The erosion of trust among harvesters, associations, and the state has led to a governance system that is rich in rules and monitoring, but lacking effective procedures to develop harvesting strategies that meet the sustainability goals of the state and livelihood goals of fish harvesters. Recent attempts by harvesters to form new associations to 'take back the industry' highlight the attempt to re-center the commons around socially just action arenas rather than policy instruments."

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