Beyond the Tragedy in Global Fisheries

From Politics, Science, and the Environment

Beyond the Tragedy in Global Fisheries

By D. G. Webster

An analysis of how responsive governance has shaped the evolution of global fisheries in cyclical patterns of depletion and rebuilding dubbed the “management treadmill.”





An analysis of how responsive governance has shaped the evolution of global fisheries in cyclical patterns of depletion and rebuilding dubbed the “management treadmill.”

The oceans are heavily overfished, and the greatest challenges to effective fisheries management are not technical but political and economic. In this book, D. G. Webster describes how the political economy of fisheries has evolved and highlights patterns that are linked to sustainable transitions in specific fisheries. Grounded in the concept of responsive governance, Webster's interdisciplinary analysis goes beyond the conventional view of the "tragedy of the commons.” Using her Action Cycle/Structural Context framework, she maps long-running patterns that cycle between depletion and rebuilding in a process that she terms the management treadmill.

Webster documents the management treadmill in settings that range from small coastal fishing communities to international fisheries that span entire oceans. She identifies the profit disconnect, in which economic incentives are out of sync with sustainable use, and the power disconnect, in which those who experience the costs of overexploitation are politically marginalized. She examines how these disconnects shaped the economics of expansion and documents how political systems failed to prevent related cycles of serial resource depletion. Webster also traces the increasing use of restrictive management in response to worsening fisheries crises and the emergence of new, noncommercial interests that demand greater management but also generate substantial conflict. She finds that the management treadmill is speeding up with population growth and economic development, and so concludes that sustainable fisheries can only exist within a sustainable global economic system.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262029551 488 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 36 figures


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262534734 488 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 36 figures


  • D. G. Webster's compelling new book explains fisheries governance, how it changes and develops over time, and how it responds to continual changes in material conditions, social imperatives, and heterogeneous interests. She brings a welcome and heretofore largely underutilized perspective from political science and organizational theory and an emphasis upon the ever-changing politics of competing interest groups and gainers and losers.

    Dale Squires

    Senior Scientist, US NOAA Fisheries; Adjunct Professor of Economics, University of California, San Diego

  • Using an Action Cycle/Structural Context framework as a tool to guide her analysis, D. G. Webster presents a magisterial overview of fisheries issues across time and space. Anyone seeking a comprehensive, up-to-date, balanced, and accessible account of issues relating to the management of marine fisheries will find this book indispensable.

    Oran R. Young

    Professor Emeritus and Codirector, Program on Governance for Sustainable Development, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara

  • Webster's book is an impressive synthesis of micro- and macro-level analysis of the evolution of fisheries and the dynamics of fisheries management. Her holistic approach yields new and important insights for everyone concerned with preserving Earth's common pool resources.

    Arild Underdal

    Professor of Political Science, University of Oslo