SOFIA'S choices: Discourses, values, and norms of the World Ocean Regime
Some scholars have thought the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea would transform marine politics and policy by incorporating social values of equity and justice via the Common Heritage of Mankind and authentic conservation of an essential part of the biosphere, displacing the dominant commodification of the ocean. Likewise, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization has claimed that the “productivity paradigm” of growth in fishery catch has been replaced by balanced norms of sustainability. This article tests these claims by asking “What is the ‘generative grammar’, or value-based blueprints, of governance for the World Ocean?” using a quantitative content analysis of all extant State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) reports (1995–2016). Not only does the analysis disprove the FAO's assertions, this research reveals an otherwise invisible, non-codified economistic regime governing the World Ocean that is guided by the norms of sheer volume production, named here simply the “World Ocean Regime.” This partially explains why the marine world is experiencing structural ecological changes, including massive biodiversity loss partly driven by overfishing. The analysis finds that overfishing, ecological life support, moral aesthetic values, social equity, and science are very minor concerns for the World Ocean Regime. Governance is the second-most important set of discourses, but this governance is clearly driven by economic values and norms. The World Ocean Regime has critical implications not only for the sustainability of the World Ocean, but the planetary system that depends on the World Ocean.
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