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Who is Right to Fish? Evolving a Social Contract for Ethical Fisheries

Mimi E. Lam, Policy and Ecosystem Restoration in Fisheries, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia
Daniel Pauly, Sea Around Us Project, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia


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Most debates on government fisheries management, focusing on dramatic fishery collapses, have skirted the ethical dimension implicit in the exploitation, for private gain, of fishery resources that are publicly owned. The privilege to fish, a conditional right often nefariously perceived as a legislated “right,” implies ethical responsibilities linked to marine stewardship. To date, however, granting this privilege to fish
has not been legally tethered to the fiduciary responsibilities of
businesses to their clients or governments to their citizens:
sustainable management of fisheries and conservation of living marine resources. Legal rights must be coupled with moral responsibilities if governments, private fishing enterprises, and civil society are to conserve marine resources for present and future generations. Evolving a social contract for ethical fisheries that explicitly mandates collaborative governance and corporate responsibility can protect public goods and society’s right to fish, both to eat and to exist in the sea.

Key words

collaborative governance; corporate responsibility; fisheries management; fishing privileges; marine stewardship; public ownership; subsidies; tragedy of the commons

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087