MCA: Global Environmental Imaginaries & Constrained Choice: Using Electronic Monitoring to Protect the Environment & Human Rights in Fisheries

Project: Research project

Project Details

Description

There is a link between environmentally harmful fishing practices and the exploitation of
people, with dire consequences for workers at sea (i.e. working conditions, occupational health and safety). The link between these issues may likely be exacerbated by COVID related relaxation of human observer requirements, reductions in at-sea enforcement capacity, and increased rates of transshipment (i.e. the transfer of fish and other cargo to another vessel while in transit to the final destination, which is often linked to IUU fishing) (CEA CoVID). Actual human rights risks on vessels largely go unseen despite the documented risks and abuses that can occur on deck.

These concerns have triggered environmental and human rights organizations to initiate a conversation around possible solutions and has grown to include national fishing authorities and (international) regional fisheries management organizations (CEA Labor). Big international NGOs (BINGOs) like The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Conservation international have begun to advocate that electronic monitoring (EM) might a key way to address these concerns.

Recent research indicated that the environmental data captured by EM may also revealthe social and labor conditions borne by workers and human observers on vessels. Beyond addressing sustainable fishing practices, EM can flag suspected social abuses on vessels. Onboard data captured by EM for social responsibility could include monitoring of onboard conditions, crew well-being, verification of crew documents, and verification and compliance with social sustainability commitments.

BINGOs have begun to articulate a sociotechnical imaginary of the potential of EM to solve both environmental and human rights abuses in fisheries. One document from TNC encapsulates this imaginary succinctly as: A laudable goal is for fishermen, managers, and seafood supply chains to be able to seamlessly report and review data with the touch of a button, which has the potential to improve fisheries management and generate value for industry in the seafood marketplace. There is a need to modernize fisheries management, collect reliable data on fishing operations at sea, and unlock the economic and environmental potential of fisheries worldwide, and EM has a critical role to play in realizing this future. (CEA 2018 report)

However, the fishing industry contests this imaginary, especially at the fundamental core of what is expressed as good in the imaginary. TNC views the ocean and its resources as Our shared seas are a public good, and it should be standard practice for them to be fished with the transparency and accountability necessary to ensure they are being fished sustainably. (CEA 2018 report). However, the fishing industry has long viewed the ocean as a place of autonomy and fishing practices and locations to be trade secrets. BINGOs see this conflicting view as something to be broken down and rebuilt in the form of their imaginary. For example, one report states for EM to realize its full market potential, more work is needed to demonstrate the benefits of the tool, identify new opportunities for the technology, and break down the barriers that are slowing adoption. To help overcome these barriers, we have compiled a set of recommendations . [including] Build Fishermen and Industry Support for EM and Cultivate Private-Sector Leadership (CEA 2018 report).

In order to understand the emergent use of EM to address human rights abuses, I propose an exploratory study to answer the following research questions:

1. How are the factors relating to human rights abuses interacting within the Socio TechnicalEcological system to yield certain outcomes?
2. How are Big, International, NGOs (BINGOs), rather than nation-states, creating and operationalizing sociotechnical imaginaries of EM?
3. How have examples of technological goods and bads led to the reconfiguration of desirable futures and been used to drive policy about EM?
StatusActive
Effective start/end date8/1/217/31/24

Funding

  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $346,983.00

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