Skip to content

Tunnel Vision in Marine Conservation

November 22, 2011

ResearchBlogging.orgDegnbol et al. (2006) make a really important observation that there are various paradigms within the field of fisheries management. And they argue that these paradigms hold back progress by creating ‘tunnel vision’.  I couldn’t agree more.

For those in marine policy, these paradigms are common sense, but there is utility to talking about them.  Here is how the authors describe these conceptual models and the common ‘quick fixes’ that they yield:


Model 1: The Fishery as an Economic Enterprise. Efficiency is all, allocation is expensive, and markets are efficient allocation mechanisms. Self-interest is the best motivator, therefore ITQs.

 Model 2: The Fishery as a Biological System. Whatever you do, keep all the parts: humans are uncontrollable influences, recent experience shows they are not to be trusted, we don t know which are the key ecological processes or core species, preserves are the best protection, therefore MPAs.

Model 3: The Fishery as a Social System. Social networks are important, communities have their own integrity, community failure contributes to management failure, and the social fabric is threatened by individualism, therefore CBM.

How do such paradigms arise?  Here’s more:

Professional specialization begins with the graduate education that trains thinking within a particular disciplinary frame. The concepts, theories and values transmitted in graduate school exert a strong influence on how scientists later frame the world. Specialization continues with the development of a disciplinary focus that allows the development of sophisticated concepts and analytical depth. Eventually, identity with a discipline reinforces the acceptance and promotion of its dogma, leading to what Thorstein Veblen labelled trained incapacity a professional’s inability to understand and solve problems outside his narrow field of specialization (Merton 1968)…

The socialization process of living within a scientific community leads to vesting in identification with the collective. Scientists’ investments in training and skill development, their careers and perhaps even their deepest beliefs and self-valuations are strongly tied to their particular scientific community, so they are very committed to their continued success. Although recognizing disciplines are productive as they generate the conditions for accumulation of knowledge and deepening our understanding of the natural and social world, Harriss (2002) argues that disciplines also impose constraints that are repressive rather than productive: Academic disciplines, too, like other kinds of sects, may be characterized by religiosity, when particular practices of ways of acting come to be venerated in themselves, and others treated as quite unacceptable for no other reason than the do not conform to the currently accepted canon – or fashion.

Scientific communities, like other human organizations, compete for resources and power. Solidarity within a scientific community is one way to generate the kind of power that sustains it. Solidarity is based in part on shared definitions of group boundaries. In scientific communities, boundary maintenance involves the identification of real science by answering two critical and related questions: which claims are and are not scientific, and who is and is not a scientist (Jasanoff 1990).

So here’s the argument:

Tunnel vision is a major cause of fishery management underperformance. Some management alternatives never get serious consideration because they are invisible or perceived irrelevant from a particular perspective. Thus, the boundaries between scientific communities and disciplines provide barriers to free exchange of perspectives that could validate other management tools. At any given time, the set of possible management actions is constrained by incomplete information about available management tools.

I agree with this argument.  But worth noting is that I don’t think there are many people who clearly fit any of the above conceptual models in the marine conservation community, though perhaps in the academic community.  I have seen this sort of simplified thinking emerge at the group level, however.  All in all, it’s worth watching out for this .

*Note: I read a draft of the article (available here) as I do not have access to MarPol. 

DEGNBOL, P., GISLASON, H., HANNA, S., JENTOFT, S., RAAKJARNIELSEN, J., SVERDRUPJENSEN, S., & CLYDEWILSON, D. (2006). Painting the floor with a hammer: Technical fixes in fisheries management Marine Policy, 30 (5), 534-543 DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2005.07.002

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: