Commons analysis and ocean fisheries

Authored by: Bonnie J. McCay

Routledge Handbook of the Study of the Commons

Print publication date:  January  2019
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138060906
eBook ISBN: 9781315162782
Adobe ISBN:


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The idea and metaphor of the commons has a long and complex history in marine affairs and scholarship. Hugo Grotius’ 17th-century scholarship on behalf of Holland’s merchants defined much of the sea as “res nullius,” open to exploitation, and it helped establish in international law the idea that the seas beyond narrow territorial limits are owned by no one and under no rule (Burke 1994), the doctrine of “mare liberum,” the “freedom of the seas.” The idea of “the commons” as a condition of free access, beyond ordinary domains of property rights, is captured in the way that biologists and economists have more recently formulated problems in fisheries. The upside of this perspective is recognition that free and open access to the seas is important to transportation, trade, and resource extraction. The downside is that the “freedom” leaves the resources of the seas open to abuse, hence, efforts to come up with local, regional, and global systems for management of fishing, shipping, and other activities in the ocean commons.

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