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Harvesting a Knowledge Commons: Collective Action, Transparency, and Innovation at the Portland Fish Exchange

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Type: Journal Article
Author: Brewer, Jennifer F.
Journal: International Journal of the Commons
Volume: 8
Page(s): 155-178
Date: 2014
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/9294
Sector: Fisheries
Region: North America
Subject(s): fisheries
Abstract: "While localist visions of alternative food systems advocate for the expansion of local ecological knowledge through more proximate producer-consumer relationships, globalized seafood supply-demand chains persist. Moving beyond this dichotomy, commons scholars recognize that collective action among resource users at the local level can shape cross-scalar producer relations with government and more capitalized firms operating in regional and global markets. In the case of the New England groundfishery, a quasi-public fish auction not only transformed the scalar, logistical, and financial parameters of harvester-buyer relationships, it altered the production and use of local knowledge among some harvesters, and their technological choices. Resulting markets offer potential benefits that extend to broader publics, by increasing the monetary value and experimental development of a knowledge commons. Qualitative analysis of field data shows that with new market transparency, fish are no longer valued as an undifferentiated commodity, but as a variety of products with individually nuanced price structures. Displacement of local seafood buyers incurred some shoreside job losses, but fishers on smaller, owner-operated boats in multi-generational fishing harbours benefit particularly from new opportunities compared to larger, fleet boats due to different labour relations, allocations of decision-making responsibilities, observational contexts, and associated information flows. Implications for the mobilization of knowledge-action linkages to influence formal resource management arenas merit further research."

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