The unintended consequences of ‘responsible fishing’ for small-scale fisheries: Lessons from the Pacific coast of Colombia
The ‘Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries’ developed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has been central for the governance of fisheries. Most responsible fisheries initiatives are market-driven and motivate transitions towards greener economies. These added-value fish economies have increasingly connected fishing grounds to external markets that demand high quality sustainable products. This article problematizes the framework of responsible fishing and examines its intersections with place-base institutional processes in the Pacific coast of Colombia. In doing this, it explores how the concept of ‘responsible fishing’ has been framed, arguing that it has been used to operationalize the expansion of neoliberal processes in the oceans. It draws on small-scale fisheries performed by Afro-descendant people in the Gulf of Tribugá, where responsible fishing narratives have been linked to the creation of marine protected areas and responsible fish supply chains. Two dominant framings of responsible fishing were identified; a ‘sustainability’ framing that denotes the sustainable use of fishing resources, and a ‘technical’ framing that refers to the use of environmentally safe practices. However, none of these framings accounts for social responsibility. Instead they have enforced the division of fishing practices between ‘responsible’/‘irresponsible’, and produced static, ahistorical and oversimplified understandings of fishing dynamics. All this has triggered a local need for external control over fisheries governance, disempowering place-based control mechanisms. This article concludes by questioning whether responsible fishing can successfully ensure a sustainable use of fishing resources, or if moving beyond ‘responsibility’ is needed to strengthen local institutional processes and autonomy among coastal peoples.