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Visibility, legitimacy, and power: a North Carolina fishing community and governance of the commons




May, Candace K., author
Taylor, Peter Leigh, advisor
Carolan, Michael S., committee member
Lacy, Michael G., committee member
Stevis, Dimitris, committee member

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Researchers studying common pool resource (CPR) governance argue that the participation of natural resource dependent people in formal processes of natural resource governance is essential for the sustainability of those resources. In accord with the vast body of related research and political activism, the United States fisheries management system promotes co-management practices as the pathway to sustainable fisheries governance. Nevertheless, empirical evidence illustrates that local fishers are increasingly disappearing from the fishing industry and their communities at the same time as the degradation of fisheries is increasing. I examine this contradiction through a case study of a community of commercial fisherpeople in Two Rivers, North Carolina. I develop the concepts of visibility, legitimacy, and power to capture the multiple levels and scales of structure and agency that shape the participation of local fishers in governance activities and lead to environmental degradation. Data was collected through interviews, observations, and review of policy documents and local archives. An important finding from this study is that many local fishers practice active non-participation, - intentional non-involvement in formal political activities while instead engaging in informal fisheries governance activities. However, the political inactivity associated with active non-participation decreases the legitimacy and power of local fishers, hastening their disarticulation from the fisheries, further decreasing the efficacy of formal political processes and ultimately resulting in unsustainable fisheries governance. Through the active political participation of commercial fishers, there is hope and a way forward for the future of fisher livelihoods and the sustainability of the nation's fisheries.


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common pool resources
natural resources
political participation


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