Precarity, Indigeneity and the Market in Māori Fisheries

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This paper contributes to debates on growing inequalities in the maritime domain by using the concept of precarity to interrogate the market in Māori fisheries. To understand the particularities of this ocean precarity, I draw attention to the interrelated dynamics of dispossession, as it occurred historically in Māori fisheries through various economic orders, and indigeneity, as it articulates with both alienation and the reclamation of fishing rights. I argue that the incorporation of Māori fisheries into an Individual Transferable Quota system has generated a “political ecology of the precarious,” positioning socio-natures as working against ecological demise at the same time as contributing to it. This transforms the ancestral guardianship relationship between people and their sea, exacerbates colonially-created dispossessions and hardens divisions between economic and cultural spheres, or commercial and customary fisheries. However, precarious conditions may also be conceived of as mobilising phenomena, giving rise to attempts to breach these divides.


This paper contributes to debates on growing inequalities in the maritime domain by using the concept of precarity to interrogate the market in Māori fisheries. To understand the particularities of this ocean precarity, I draw attention to the interrelated dynamics of dispossession, as it occurred historically in Māori fisheries through various economic orders, and indigeneity, as it articulates with both alienation and the reclamation of fishing rights. I argue that the incorporation of Māori fisheries into an Individual Transferable Quota system has generated a “political ecology of the precarious,” positioning socio-natures as working against ecological demise at the same time as contributing to it. This transforms the ancestral guardianship relationship between people and their sea, exacerbates colonially-created dispossessions and hardens divisions between economic and cultural spheres, or commercial and customary fisheries. However, precarious conditions may also be conceived of as mobilising phenomena, giving rise to attempts to breach these divides.

The primary mission of a tribal authority is building, restoring, maintaining the culture and identity of our people in our own landscape. All of those things, your language, your place names, your songs, your marae (meeting house complex), your customs, your mahinga kai (traditional food gathering areas). Why do you care about the dredging of Lyllteton Harbour? The cruise ships coming in? I don’t want to see that at the expense of my traditional fish nurseries. But it is just fish! No, fish is not just fish, fish from there is me. What’s mine is me, what’s me is mine, but it is also that of my kin.

That’s what we’re here for. If those things don’t mean anything then all this is just a whole lot of capital that should be broken up and distributed. If that is not the mission, all of this is a waste of time and money. Forget about it, join the mob, go on the rampage with them, live a virtual life on social media where you don’t need history.

This commentary, an excerpt from a two-day informal interview with Ta Tipene O’Regan, Kaumatua (esteemed elder) of Ngai Tahu iwi (tribe) and one of six key Māori negotiators involved in the 1992 Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Settlement Act,1 is expressive of the contradictory socio-natures that arise when indigeneity becomes entangled with market environmentalism, a complexity that can be understood through the concept of precarity. This paper, then, uses the idea of precarity to analyse the market in Māori fisheries. It mobilises precarity in three main ways: to draw attention to the specificities of precarity for colonised peoples; to interrogate the emergence of environmental precarity and to signal the “political ecology of the precarious”2 in saltwater environments. In each I pursue the theoretical potential of precarity to undo categorical boundaries between, for instance, the global North and South, the local and the global, the realm of the market and that of the social, and between natural and human worlds. I also situate precarity in an uneasy dance with opportunity, the oft elusive realisation of which creates new class formations as well as possible futures. In this sense, my use of precarity is oriented towards blame, that is, what has sculpted the precarious present in Māori fisheries?

There is now much evidence that, in the last few decades, Individual Transferable Quota fisheries reforms and modernization programs in both the Global North and South have concentrated wealth, consolidated property rights, and discriminated against those most dependent on fish for food and as a source of livelihood.3 These inequalities emerged alongside the broader neoliberal reorganisation of the political economy from the 1980s and, more specifically, the reconfiguration of human-environmental relations that occurred as neoliberalism materialised in environmental management policies, regulations and markets. In this context, Māori fisheries are a manifestation of a broader phenomenon of rising global socio-economic inequities in the maritime domain. Individual Transferable Quota systems create conditions of precarity by establishing a tension between the productive dimension of fisheries, that is fishers catching fish, and the financialisation of catch rights, wherein value is accumulated through quota trades.4 For Māori, this implicates historic nature/culture relations and responsibilities. In New Zealand, 57 iwi (tribes) own fishing quota, the vast majority of which lease rather than fish these rights, creating a twinned articulation of engaging with the marketisation of fish stocks while disengaging from the affective dimension of ocean hunting.5 The tension inherent in this bind is expressed in the following interview quotes:

“Morally, we prefer to put our toes in the water” (general manager of a Māori seafood collective)

“It would be great not to transfer it [quota] out, and have ownership, rangatiratanga” (sovereignty). (Former ceo of an Iwi fisheries company).

“we don’t want to be just a quota flicker, we want a sustainable and profitable seafood business where we can employ our people” (ceo of an Iwi fisheries company)

“I’d like to see more opportunities for Māori fishermen, to stop just leasing quota” (Māori fisherman).

To understand the particularities of this ocean precarity it is necessary to pay attention to the interrelated dynamics of dispossession, as it occurred historically in Māori fisheries through various economic orders, and indigeneity, as it engages with both alienation and the reclamation of fishing rights. The argument presented here is informed by long-term fieldwork on Māori fisheries and indigenous treaty claims pertaining to coastal spaces, and more specifically, by recent research (since July 2017) on iwi (tribal) settlement quota and market environmentalism.

I begin by providing an overview of the literature on precarity in order to segue into a discussion on the specificities of precarity and indigeneity. I then detail, in the case of New Zealand, settler colonial attempts to enclose marine spaces and the resistance of Māori to this dispossession. The next section applies understandings of environmental precarity to Individual Transferable Quota (itq) systems in fisheries management. It argues that the incorporation of Māori fisheries into the itq system has generated a “political ecology of the precarious,” positioning socio-natures as working against ecological demise at the same time as contributing to it. This transforms the ancestral relationships between people and their sea, exacerbates colonially created dispossessions and hardens divisions between economic and cultural spheres, or commercial and customary Māori fisheries. However, precarious conditions may also be conceived of as mobilising phenomena, giving rise to attempts to breach these divides. This may be illustrated by the emergence of fishing activities, neither fully commercial nor fully customary, that provide seafood for Māori individuals and communities. It may also be described through the emergence of Māori quota as a Treaty of Waitangi right requiring protection in the face of threats of dispossession. The final section, the conclusion, considers the historical specificities of precarity for indigenous peoples in colonial settler societies. It suggests how analysing the market in Māori fisheries through the concept of precarity contributes to debates on growing inequalities in ocean spaces.

1 Precarity

Generally, precarity has been conceptualised in three different ways: as a post-Fordist degradation of labour conditions and norms, as a levelling phenomenon that gives rise to new forms and relations of resistance or ontologically, as an inherent human condition. The first interpretation is particularly associated with Euro-American experiences of decline, anxiety, uncertainty and an increasing socio-economic disparity that is perceived to mark the current era as exceptional, a temporal neoliberal crisis or blip. Herein precarity is expressed in labour market insecurity, risk and vulnerability6 and “the precariat” emerges as a category to displace an older class of the lumpenproletariat;7 the exploitation of “precariat” labour, however, is considered to be enabled by an internalised ideology of individual responsibility, creativity and/or passion. Precarity references the loss of a steady and stable income, a decline in unionisation, diminishing social welfare provisions and, simultaneously, the normalisation of temporary, zero hours contracts and informal work, whether for middle class workers in the gig economy, eternally adjunct professors in academia, migrant fruit pickers or those in creative industries.8 In this synopsis, the Keynesian era expansion of wage labour contracts and welfare policies has been systematically hollowed out over the last four decades to be replaced by structural adjustment and austerity packages pushed by international organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, as well as the European Union and nation states.9 This is coupled with “investment away from historic industrial centers to newly industrialised zones, financialisation, real estate speculation and rapid urbanization, together producing a new geography of capitalism.”10

Critiques of this interpretation of precarity point out that Fordism was exceptional, more contingent and shorter than imagined, whereas precarity is capitalism’s norm.11 Further, that our nostalgia for an era of stability is historically misplaced, referring more correctly to a brief post-Fordist convergence of centralised union bargaining with Keynesian welfarism.12 In Henry Ford’s automobile factories, “armed security guards, shop floor spies, physical intimidation and external propaganda were all part of the method employed … to cut workers’ contact with their peers and bind their labour to a pre-ordained tempo set by the factory’s machinery.” Weston, adding to this picture of dystopia, writes that the Ford Motor company affectively reinvented the masses, introducing industrial produced compounds into domestic life, encouraging both industry and citizen-consumer pollution.13 And, significantly for my argument here, Fordist economies were shaped by the violence of colonialism and settler colonialism as well as the normalising of precarious conditions for people in the global South.14 Hence, both Fordism’s heyday and decline are misremembered.

Alternatively, precarity may seed the emergence of a socio-political identity, a potentially disruptive agent linked to a new and vibrant form of labour activism.15 Precarity conceived as a leveller, or a political economy of the commons, arose foremost out of activist practices that erupted across public spaces in Europe in the mid-2000s. Becoming a rallying cry for those seeking an alternative to capitalism,16 precarity emerged as a condensation symbol in EuroMayDay protests, Precarity Ping Pong in the UK, the International meeting of the Precariat in Berlin and the activist-linking precarity map. The absence of similar movements in New Zealand and Australia during this era is striking. While small pockets of activists in New Zealand have used the language of precarity in more recent protests17 and it has entered academic work,18 it has not emerged as a horizontal inducing focus for struggle, nor gained traction as a means of organising radical political activity. Neilson and Rossiter, comparing the vocality of precarity protests in Italy with their lack in Australia, suggest that more is at stake than language, expressive differences, or the limited uptake of travelling theories. Instead, “the brief emergence of precarity as a platform for political movements in Western Europe has to do with the relative longevity, in this context, of social state models in the face of neoliberal labour reforms.”19 That is, where the social state has maintained less presence, precarity does not emerge as an exceptional condition sparking civil unrest. In New Zealand, the neoliberal reorganization of society from the 1980s is remarkable for the depth and speed of reforms, in particular a shift of social responsibilities from the public sphere (government) to the private sphere (individuals, families, and households).20 By the mid-2000s, New Zealand had experienced insecure labour market conditions for two decades.

In Europe, precarity as collective resistance did not last, its demise variously theorised as a result of imagining the state as an institution fit to combat the growth of insecure labour,21 or, as Tsianos and Papadopoulos suggest, precarious subjectivities do not somehow make up a unified social actor.22 The latter point is also made by Neilson and Rossiter, who, while arguing that precarity is embedded in capitalist production, acknowledge that it does not seamlessly knit together “experiences of contingency, vulnerability and risk across different historical periods and geographical spaces.”23 Yet, this does not pre-empt the possibility that precarious labourers may at times achieve work based solidarity24 and that ongoing experiences of precarity may unite indigeneity, locally and transnationally.25 The rendering of nature as precarious may also organise opposition to desecrating the sacred, coalescing differently placed actors against seabed mining in Aotearoa,26 military testing in Micronesia,27 deep sea mining in Papua New Guinea28 and the construction of monster telescopes on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea.29 It is the ability of precarity to capture both a condition and the potential for mobilisation in response to that condition, that marks it as analytically distinct from terms such as poverty, risk and vulnerability.

As a generalised human condition, “precariousness” is conceptualised as enduring beyond specific events imposed by macro structures.30 This gives rise to certain existential challenges and states of common, though differentially distributed, vulnerability: we are both empowered by and dependent on other people; our body relies on others for survival, but this exposes us to destruction and death.31 Precarity is thus part of every exchange by virtue of the fact that we are dependent on the grace or will of others.32 It also expresses, in the contemporary post 9/11 United States and elsewhere, the insecurity, fear, fragility and powerlessness of human lives in the context of everyday oppressive governmentality.33 For Tsing, precarity, defined as “life without the possibility of stability,” is universalised, with the “we” who experience this precarity inclusive of endangered species and sinking Pacific islands.34 Yet Tsing also embraces this instability as a fluid state of reality. Hence “an earthwide condition of precarity” provides opportunity for new possibilities of multispecies coexistence shaping a “third nature,” comprised of what manages to live despite capitalism.

Anthropological ideas about alternative, hybrid or human economies, initiated as a response to the 2008 Global Fiscal Crisis, also suggest the existence of phenomena providing possibilities within, around or despite capitalism.35 In drawing empirical attention to the existence of a plurality of economic forms in any society as against a singular notion of the economy as “capitalist,” this scholarship suggests that attention should be paid to what people are already doing, to alternative economic practices and the combination of different practices and to give these more emphasis in forging a new direction in economic change. Tsing’s notion of a third nature somewhat shadows these economic possibilities, though her emphasis is on the unexpected social relations, extending also to non-humans, that emerge within capitalism. Māori relations with non-human others, such as the fish identified in the interview excerpt beginning this paper or the shape-shifting kaitiaki discussed below, could be considered in this vein. My interest lies in exploring how these relationships are constrained or otherwise expressed through market environmentalism to produce conditions of precarity in Māori fisheries.

2 On Precarity and Indigeneity

While a number of authors have critiqued the spatio-temporal conceit of precarity as primarily expressive of recent Euro-American experiences of decline, little actual scholarship addresses precarity in indigenous societies (though Hinkson’s work on Indigenous Australian placemaking and Lusby’s on urban labour migrations in Papua New Guinea provide notable exceptions),36 the problem to which I now turn. Adding to the above discussion, three specific concerns are pivotal in understanding precarity and indigeneity in general, and in Māori fisheries in particular. First, ownership and dispossession, the tense interplay between which features critically in indigenous claims against colonial alienations, though importantly, dispossession is “a condition that is not simply countered by appropriation.”37 Second, environmental precarity and the articulation of this with indigenous natures. Third, while precarious labour is associated with neoliberalisation, for indigenous peoples its reach is much deeper, being rooted in the violence of colonial political economies and the imposition of unequal labour regimes, which racialise working groups. That is, legislation and institutional discrimination grounded in the story of the “lazy native” who must be stripped of her unproductive land, language, kinship and ritual obligations in order to participate in capitalism’s modernising crusade, and the simultaneous cries of inauthenticity when she does. This history is crucial when considering the impact of neoliberalisation on already precarious lives. These three tropes intersect to produce “a political ecology of the precarious” in Māori fisheries.

2.1 Dispossession and Precarity

Allison observes that precarity, though it may begin in a particular place, soon spills into other areas of life creating a “sense of being out of place, out of sorts, disconnected.”38 Land alienation, a quintessential material dislocation and enduring feature of indigeneity, may no longer be understood as the main cause of dispossession. For Butler and Athanasiou, dispossession attends to how human lives and bodies matter and do not matter through colonialism, slavery, apartheid, capitalist alienation, immigration and asylum politics, gender and sexual normativity, amongst other alienations.39 It is, however, important to maintain a distinction between “being dispossessed” and “becoming dispossessed” with the former registering a basic human condition and the latter the violence of enforced deprivation.40 In this sense, settler colonial dispossession alludes to the creation of historically specific precarity rather than precariousness as a basic component in all human exchanges. This distinction is critical if we are to resist the tendency of precarity to dehistoricise and flatten inequalities, or otherwise divert attention away from the structural causes of precarity towards subjective experiences.

Settler colonialism destroys in order to replace, whether this be a substitution of language, culture, kinship structures, gender norms, households or beliefs. Access to territory, however, remains its “specific, irreducible element.”41 The dispossession of watery nature is inherently complex, the trajectory of which differs in important ways to that from land. This is a consequence of the differential recognition of indigenous tenure in the sea, colonial assumptions concerning the freedom of the seas, and, in terms of accumulation, the perceived extractive potential of agricultural and fisheries products at any given time. It is also a result of the distinctive contours of neoliberalism in the oceans, that is, fantastical imaginings about the superiority of property rights in generating “good” environmental governance and economic efficiency and a belief in the virtue of “the market” as the optimal space through which to distribute fishing rights; a propertisation that hits against the ontology of the sea itself. In comparison to territorial spaces, saltwater environments are particularly resistant to boundary-making. The fluidity of water, unpredictability of waves, storms and rising oceans as well as the existence of non-human inhabitants whose migrations span across oceans, into rivers, and onto land suggests the difficulty of enclosing this four-dimensional space; the sea having length, breadth, depth and mobility.

Māori fisheries have been subjected to two main episodes of enclosure, each of which has added to the current dyadic of dispossession/possession in Māori saltwater commons. The first occurred with the annexation of New Zealand in 1840 and the assertion, under English common law, that the Crown had complete and unqualified ownership of land below the high tide mark whereas the sea was open to all, irrespective of Māori customary tenure or indeed the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, article two of which guarantees to Māori sovereignty over their fisheries.42 Conversely, colonial law in regard to terrestrial land affirmed extant Māori property, a recognition which gave way to settlers’ need/greed for land, cadastral surveying, shady deals and the eventual violent removal of 94.4% of Māori land.43 Meanwhile, the colonial implementation of mare nullius effectively transformed tribally owned marine spaces into open access resources wherein competition over fisheries was increasingly weighted towards settler extraction. Thus, for instance, while developing a local market in fisheries was considered a progressive economic activity for settlers, Māori were consistently excluded from fishing or selling fish, ending up in criminal courts in the late 19th century for attempting to do so;44 a criminalisation which has continued, regardless of the opening of the market to Māori fisheries in 1992, and which manifests itself today in a swathe of convictions on “poaching” charges.45

The second enclosure arose at the juncture of a number of local and global events. Of greatest significance were the growing influence, from the 1950s, of neoclassical economics in fisheries research endorsing private property regimes as a means to harness individual fishers’ decision-making to assumed economic and ecological realities and the international recognition of states’ claims to seascapes, beginning in New Zealand with the establishment of a 12 nm zone in 1965, expanded in 1977 to 200nm. After Great Britain entered the European Economic Community in 1973, New Zealand’s agricultural produce, the mainstay of the economy, no longer had the security of an export market in its historic imperial power. This colonial cleavage prompted a renewed national interest in the commercial potential of oceans, leading to concerted state efforts to grow the business of fishing by means such as tax incentives, export-friendly policies, an easing of criteria for loans and the encouragement of joint venture agreements with foreign vessels. By the early 1980s New Zealand’s fish stocks, particularly in inshore areas, were over-exploited and the industry was deemed over-capitalised; a resource destruction that coincided with the global rise of a discourse valorising sustainability. Crucially, in the mid-1980s New Zealand became a site of neoliberal experimentation.46 Together these events spurred the introduction of one of the world’s first itq systems in fisheries management. In 1982, the New Zealand government removed incentives from the fishing industry and announced its intention to refocus on sustainability; private catch rights, or individual quota were rolled out for offshore fish stock in 1983, inshore stock in 1986 and a virtual market was initiated in quota trading.47

Accessing this new property right was contingent, initially, on commercial catch records (to be followed by market distribution), the percentage of income derived from fishing and capital investment. Māori fishers were disproportionately excluded,48 a dispossession which, over the next few years, was countered by legal challenges, claims against Treaty of Waitangi violations and a grassroots collectivism rooted in an ancestral reciprocal ethos tying coastal tribes to the sea.49 In 1992, Māori claims to commercial fisheries were “settled” under the auspices of a “full and final” Treaty of Waitangi settlement. Māori now own about 39% of all fishing quota and three of the five largest fishing companies in New Zealand. This appropriation, however, rather than marking a post-settlement era of stability, secure employment and tribal wealth rejuvenation, has added new layers of precarity to those already historically embedded.

3 Environmental Precarity

The current impacts of environmental crises, such as climate change, rising oceans, marine pollution, sea life migrations, depletions and extinctions are drastic consequences of broader conditions of global precarity.50 Non-human actors are critically tied up in these circumstances. They are entangled, for instance, in the ideology of neoliberal capitalism which works to separate humans from nature enabling the construction of the sea as property, fish species as stock with economic potential, or biovalue, and catch rights as financialised instruments in future trading markets. Precarity arises too in the conjunction of the need to push beyond limits with the need to reimpose these as scarcity.51 In this context, “sustainability” emerges as a persuasive morality, disguising both transcendence and limitedness. Environmental precarity thus becomes sustainable economic opportunity in a multitude of ways, from eco-friendly motor vehicles to, in the oceans, aquaculture, Marine Stewardship Council certification, precision seafood harvesting, privatised catch rights and the advancing technology of deep sea vessels, designed to fish all species with reduced labour requirements; developments captured in Weston’s concept of “a political ecology of the precarious.” In appropriated Māori fisheries such contradictions are manifest in quota trading activities, the separation of customary and commercial spheres and in the translation of quota as a Treaty of Waitangi right.

3.1 “Quota Flicking” and Coastal Tribes: Emerging Hierarchies

There are important structural factors which direct Māori tribes to lease rather than fish repossessed fishing rights, primarily those which inhere in itq systems and those arising from the political economy of indigenous settlements.52 My concern here, however, in the following ethnographic vignette, is to track the particular form of precarity that arises from this juncture.

Ngahuia (pseudonym) walks the surf beach most days checking on mussel beds and coastal erosions, on rocks protruding or shrinking through sand and on hundreds of pinagao and spinifex grasses planted in dunes to entrap wind-blown sand deposited from the sea. Her house, on Māori owned land, shifts ever closer to the ocean, a mobility abetted by the disappearing dunes and increasing ferocity of King tides. From her window she spotted a kite surfer being dragged out towards the sand bar at the mouth of the harbour; ringing the coast guard she secured his rescue. Troubled sea creatures have also been eyed from here. Ngahuia’s kin have always been in this place, “we waved to the waka as it was going past,” she explains, referring to the canoe migrations of other Māori tribes from Hawaiki, the Polynesian homeland. Singing a verse in te reo, she translates: “who are the people who live here and within this place of the listening seas? It’s us. This is our waiata (song) for this place.”

As a kaitiaki (guardian) of the environment her responsibility is expressed through decades of activism, petitions against infrastructure causing stormwater and sewage to spill into the sea, presiding over the correct reburial of uncovered koiwi tangata (human bones) in sea cliffs and rock cervices, ensuring customary protocol prevails when interring beached whales, as well as numerous hours of archival work dedicated to advancing tribal Treaty claims over their harbour seascape. A crucial concern remains fisheries, the ability to protect the resource but also to harvest and share seafood, as is expected of coastal tribes. As part of the Kingitanga, an anti-colonial movement uniting some tribes from the mid-19th century, her hapū (subtribe) is obligated to provide seafood to annual koroneihana (coronation) celebrations, a provision tied up with being sea people: “In the 1950s, princess Te Puea53 used to send a truck from inland to here, her people would not touch our resource, our people would fill the truck and send that back to them, so they recognized the mana (power/authority) of space actually stays with our people.” A recognition that is now threatened: the tribes commercial fishing rights have been transferred out of the community, young people have departed, and there is a lack of capital to invest in a vessel to harvest even customary take.

The large inland umbrella iwi (tribe), recipient of tribal land settlements and fishing quota assets, is required to generate wealth out of commonly held resources. Its governance body is fractured into a Mandated Iwi Organisation (mio) and an asset holding company, both structures legally prescribed as pre-requirements to receiving Treaty settlement property. The former are tribal organizations, peopled by elders, others with significant cultural and political expertise, as well as those involved in negotiating the tribal settlements. The latter is structured as a distinct post-settlement commercial entity, no more that forty percent of which can be comprised of members from the mio. The asset holding company manages settlement wealth, including fisheries, which then must be distributed to over fifty marae (meeting house complexes) and through educational, sport and cultural scholarships. A former ceo of the asset holding company describes the tribe’s trajectory from catching fish in the sea to trading virtual fish, or quota; following the fisheries settlement the iwi purchased a fishing company, inclusive of its inshore quota, vessels, a processing company, ice trucks and retail outlet and added their settlement quota to the venture. Trying to corporatize a family business, though, he explained, was problematic in the new itq environment,

the iwi had no skill or capability other than capital and settlement quota, so [after suffering losses] the company was collapsed down to just quota. All of the vessels were sold, all the leases extinguished, the retail operations were closed and people made redundant. The privately held itq [owned by the company] and the iwi settlement quota were then aggregated with the settlement quota of two other iwi and put into a new joint venture company [consisting of the three iwi] which then leased a Polish fishing vessel and crew, traded their inshore quota with the deep-sea quota of Sealord,54 and began to fish.

The iwi joint venture was subsequently “collapsed down” as a result of “fixed costs” and revenue being “tied to export commodities and subject to the swings and roundabouts of foreign exchange rates, they needed to find offshore markets and there is a lack of infrastructure and connectivity to those markets.” The three partners “ended up getting $400,000 a year more just by leasing quota than having all this palaver of a business.” There’s been “two tries at actually fishing,” he reminded me, “that special attachment to kaimoana (seafood) won’t go away.” Current members of this asset holding company describe their fisheries work as “quota flicking”: “leasing is a lower risk option. For us its largely low management input, getting a reasonable steady return. The administration and governance of quota might take four or five days a year. Our mandate is to grow more money, increase that back to our people.”

As a market-based instrument for managing the environment, itq systems are geared towards the global, towards the consolidation of fishing rights and the evermore accumulation of quota. They approach fish stock as a single species divorced from a broader ecosystem, and, notably the dumping and discarding of non-targeted quota stock is everywhere problematic.55 They have emptied villages in Iceland and Gaelic islands off the west coast of Ireland.56 In Iceland, a feudal system is perceived to have arisen, with quota holders positioned as sea lords and quota-leasing fishermen as serfs.57 In New Zealand, five fishing companies own about eighty percent of the quota, sixty percent of offshore catch is taken by foreign vessels flagged to New Zealand companies and seafood is New Zealand’s fifth largest export, projected to reach (NZ) $2.3 billion by 2025, with China being the largest recipient.58

Ngahuia has sought access to her tribe’s fishing quota, her vision is to support a coastal fishing vessel, local livelihoods and reignite ocean-going knowledge and skills. A mio elder, recalling the quest, laments that it is now time to “enculturate the commercial”:

It is a vexing problem, when we can’t help our people. I went to a hui (tribal meeting) on the west coast with our coastal hapū (sub-tribe). They were asking for a boat and for quota. They wanted the iwi to purchase the boat and give them quota. I did the maths with them to explain that is was not feasible. The maths don’t stack up to go fishing.

3.2 Balancing Customary and Commercial Fisheries

We’re one hundred percent of the customary fisheries, we’re arguably fifty percent of recreational fisheries, and we’re currently forty percent of the commercial fishing industry. Sandford’s [a large commercial fishing company] don’t have to worry about all those other things, we do.

We acknowledge that our tuakana (older brother) is customary. We come from customary…our commercial quota comes from our customary basket…everything we do has to align with that. (ceo of an Iwi fisheries company)

The need to hold tightly to custom whilst balancing engaging with a marketized resource that disavows such knowledge, creates a particular type of precarity. In New Zealand, Māori fisheries, as an outcome of the 1992 Treaty settlement, are legally cleaved into market (itq fisheries) and non-market (customary fisheries) spheres, with corporate iwi being associated with the former and grassroots hapū (subtribes) the latter. Māori also participate, along with other New Zealanders, in recreational fisheries to catch a “daily feed.”

In itq fisheries, scientific assessments articulate with administrative logic to produce an environment-in-waiting for capital infusion: fish species are recreated as stock, their reproductive rate is measured through maximum sustainable yields and their habitat is defined within quota management areas. These measurements are then combined with assessments of total allowable commercial catch to be distributed as annual catch rights to quota holders, for Māori, this means the 57 mios and asset holding companies. Conversely, the ocean in customary fisheries is bounded through rohe moana (tribal seascapes), the enactment of conservational practices and the consumption of seafood on ceremonial occasions, all under the direction of the Ministry of Primary Industries. Of significance here, is not just the construction of two opposed property models in Māori fisheries (private itq rights and rohe moana), but that a holistic social seascape was split into entirely dichotomised economic models: commercial fishing, which is oriented towards the accumulation of capital, and customary fishing, in which the selling or bartering of fish is classified as a criminal offence; customary fishing occurs only when (unpaid) kaitiaki generate fishing permits for hui (tribal meetings) or tangi (funerals). A new hierarchy, confluent with the fisheries settlement, is emergent in Māori society. At one end of the ladder sit the tribal bodies obligated to generate wealth through quota investments. At the other end are coastal hapū whose fishing practices and livelihoods have been radically transformed and whose compensation for this is a trickle down distribution flowing from quota leasing activities.

The splitting of customary from commercial spheres, in both natural and social worlds, is never complete, becoming a space wherein social relations extend, and economic activities emerge, in, around or despite capitalism. Māori non-quota owning fishers bartering fish as koha (reciprocal exchange), or harvesting culturally valued species for occasions other than hui and tangi, activities officially framed as “black marketing” and “poaching,” could be considered in this vein. As could too the efflorescence of hui and tangi in coastal communities. A more formal illustration is provide by an East Cape tribe which, when leasing its annual catch entitlements to contracted vessels, stipulates that the leasing arrangement include, on occasion, the harvesting of customary-permitted species alongside quota entitled stock. Each fish is weighed, audited and carefully assigned to either commercial or customary bins, a separation then policed at port by Ministry of Primary Industry officials before distribution takes place. A lack of capital and human resources to harvest customary take is similarly addressed by other quota holding tribes through the establishment of Pātaka, literally storehouses. The East Cape iwi also owns seafood processing units, largely employing tribal members, and a fish and chip shop, expert at supplying orders for extended family gatherings. Two fish trucks extend kaimoana (seafood) to rural and coastal areas and “loyalty cards” are distributed enabling the old and tribal “shareholders” to purchase discounted fish.

If, as I have argued, precarity in Māori saltwater environments emerges in the disconnect between the possession of fishing quota property and the dispossession of the affective and livelihood dimension of fishing, then the above examples are illustrative of the mobilising potential of precarity to counter socio-economic rigidification. A thematic explored further below.

3.3 Quota as a Treaty of Waitangi Right and Guardianship

Indigenous precarity is historically layered by colonial alienations and deprivations simultaneous with indigenous attempts at placemaking, including those in ocean spaces. For Hickson, models of placemaking are spaces of transformative possibility requiring an account of coexisting, qualitatively distinctive forms of relationship to places.59 The dyadic of dispossession/possession resulting from Māori indigenous claims against colonial maritime alienations merges non-capitalist and capitalist natures against new ocean grabs.

itqs align with private ownership in that they are designed to exist exclusively and in perpetuity, referencing the eternal right of the few to harvest or trade in capitalist markets. As a Treaty of Waitangi right, however, quota, also implicates historic Māori commons, ocean wealth and the connectivity of people and sea.60 This relationship is made explicit through the shape-shifting character of kaitiaki and its post-colonial manifestation as kaitiakitanga, signifying Māori guardianship over natural resources, though both interpretations are in play today.

A kaitiaki is “a guardian, keeper, preserver, conservator, foster-parent, protector”61 of places and things for the gods.62 It may be the spirit of a deceased ancestor manifested in the shape of a shark, eel, stingray or other animal63 and, embodied thus, is often known as a taniwha. Particular to each hapūor iwi, kaitiaki are a marker of identity such that “Māori become one and the same as kaitiaki (who are, after all, their relations) becoming the minders for their relations, that is, the other physical elements of the world.”64 In Ngahuia’s hapu, their taniwha, Te Atai-o-rongo, a former chief, murdered by his jealous brother-in-law who lodged a fish hook in his forehead, takes the form of a stingray protecting the entrance to the harbour. As protectors, kaitiaki work to ensure that the mauri (life force) of their taonga is healthy and strong.65 Conversely, they are empowered to effect punishment if this is threatened. The conversion of a taniwha’s lair into an effluent pond in Ngahuia’s rohe (tribal area) is deemed responsible for twelve subsequent ocean drownings.

Kaitiakitanga is a relatively recent linguistic development,66 the suffix “tanga” transforming the concept to mean “guardianship, preservation, conservation, fostering, protecting, sheltering.”67 It refers particularly to the role of people as kaitiaki, and while being rooted in customary values, intergenerational, reciprocal relations between people, nature and gods, it emerges politically as a means through which to claim rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.68 Kaitiakitanga is especially associated with environmental management and, in the case of fisheries, is recognised in both commercial and customary legislation. It also serves as a mediating concept when quota property is threatened or when the precarity of balancing customary and commercial socio-natures is otherwise revealed. For instance, kaitiakitanga was invoked in 2017 to collectivise Māori responses to the disappearance of their fishing quota in the event of establishment of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, a large-scale, no-take, marine protected area; the Kermadecs is also a site of crucial significance in Māori migration histories.69

The issue here was not the protection of the right to fish per se, as no Māori quota was actively fished in the proposed Sanctuary at the time, rather to challenge the Crown’s attempts to disappear repossessed indigenous fishing rights, the implications of this for other Treaty settlements and future wealth. As suggested by Jamie Tuuta, chairman of Te Ohu Kaimoana,70 in his keynote speech to the Māori Fisheries conference 2018,“The struggle over recognition of fisheries rights has become a struggle over protection of those rights to prevent them being usurped and removed by the Crown, Crown entities and many others.” Connecting kaitiakitanga with “notions of power, control and ownership of land and water,” Tuuta argued, “we simply cannot be kaitiaki of our land and sea if we have lost ownership, control and influence over it.” Observing “inherent problems within a pluralistic society where we have opposing worldviews, such that one, usually the Māori worldview is subordinated to the other,” he identified the no-take Sanctuary as ideologically rooted in a human versus nature contest. Conversely, Tuuta framed kaitiakitanga as privileging indigenous ideas about human boundaries:

Māori have always maintained that the division between Māori and nature, which translates into barriers and demarcations between economy and environment is an artefact of western thinking. Rather, there is an underlying unity between human and non-human … I see a future of kaitiakitanga in practice, flourishing relationships between people, place and natural resources. People and culture cannot be separated. The human dimension is not an obstacle to overcome on the way to conservation, marine management solutions, but is key to that particular solution.

In this synopsis, Māori quota emerges as a form of ancestral treasure requiring kaitiaki protection from new colonial alienations. Positioned in opposition to the Sanctuary, it also comes to reference indigenous placemaking. This alternative framing of Māori settlement quota contends with the dominant structuring of itq systems in which quota is positioned as “king,” accumulation as rational, quota trading as aligned with sound financial management and fishing as incurring more risks than leasing annual catch rights. As observed by scholars working on itq systems in the United Kingdom, Canada, Alaska, Iceland and elsewhere, however, stewardship over the ocean is categorically different to stewardship over quota rights; the first references environmental relationships, the second, financial ones.71

4 Conclusion

Precarity describes experiences of instability in working lives, the tenuous nature of social exchanges in the context of authoritarian governance and securitisation, at the same time as it is observed to globalize.72 Precarity thus becomes inclusive of neoliberalised labourers in the global South, worldwide experiences of disenfranchisement and placelessness, as well as environmental demise. As a concept, however, precarity loses its analytical edge if the historical specificities of ethnographic contexts are subsumed to a mantra suggesting “we are all precarious now.” I have argued that, for indigenous people in colonial settler states, the dyadic of possession/dispossession, the articulation of indigenous natures with neoliberal environmental management technologies and the longevity of precariat labour, combined with its racist origins, are distinctive features of precarity.

itq systems dichotomise nature and culture, facilitate capital accumulation and generate class inequality, and this occurs irrespective of the decision of Māori leaders to act in capitalist or non-capitalist ways. As a political ecology of the precarious they ostensibly sustain socio-natures through privatising catch rights, rewarding the property holders whilst devaluing fishermen’s work and knowledge. They underwrite commercial exploitation levels through modelling the maximum reproductive rates of fish species, configured at the level of single stock in a bounded ecosystem. Herein, economic growth is an assumed prerequisite for positive social and environmental outcomes.73 Sealord’s new Norwegian built vessel, Tokatu (the rock that stands in the ocean), a “state of the art” factory trawler, illustrates this trajectory. The largest and most modern vessel in the New Zealand fleet, it is equipped with technology designed to enhance “sustainability” while hunting all available deep sea quota — energy production equipment allowing electricity to drive the vessel at times, other fuel saving mechanisms, precision seafood harvesting technology and infrastructure to process at sea. Its products, designed for global markets, are produced with lower labour requirements and more comfort for those onboard. The launch of Tokatu, featuring waiata and the affecting Pokarekare Ana, made “the hairs on the back of my neck start to come up as the boat was coming out of the shed” (ceo of an iwi fishing company).74 It is both an overt display of the strength of the Māori fishing economy and the absence of Māori fishers in this.

In this paper, I have not dwelt on the Māori “precariat” as I am wary of categorising Māori diversity, drawing negative attention to individual or collective subjectivities rather than to structural conditions, though primarily because Māori labour, since colonisation, may always have been precarious.75 The novelty of the neoliberal Euro-American precariat may also be debated. It, for instance, disavows the insecurity of workers both within and outside of the Fordist compact and the fact that the unevenness of capital accumulation and labour formation is an abiding feature of capitalism. Kasmir suggests that, as a conceptual category, the precariat “may indicate a convergence of working lives in the Global North and South, rendering those economic distinctions increasingly obsolete.”76 The racialised history of indigenous workforces, however, and the articulation of this with neoliberalisation, is an axis of enduring difference. This points to the existence of a conjugated oppression, that is, a context in which workers’ experience of economic exploitation is conflated with the ideological oppression of racism.77 In the case of fisheries, the Crown’s requirement that Māori establish distinct asset holding and governance bodies as a prerequisite to receiving fisheries settlement quota, and the stipulation that these fishing rights work primarily to generate wealth, can be seen as constraining indigenous labour. As can the fact that Customary Fisheries are governed by the Ministry of Primary Industry though are largely sustained through the unpaid labour of coastal tribes. In their profile of the Māori precariat, Stubbs et. al describe the Māori precariat as:

… disproportionately female, young and with low educational attainment … higher rates of prevalence in regions associated with meat processing, horticulture and other seasonal employment … overwhelmingly concentrated within the most deprived neighbourhoods of Aotearoa … [yet] the value attached to Māori culture and experiences of [racial] discrimination and stigma for this group are, for the most part, similar to those among the Māori non-precariat (my italics).78

The “value” attached to culture is a crucial component in mobilising indigenous people against the extension of further precarious conditions in maritime spaces. Deloughrey documents challenges to the US militarisation of the Pacific made vivid through the voyaging canoe metaphor in the poetry of Chamorro author, Craig Santos Perez;79 the canoe is both a vessel for people and a means to navigate globalisation and colonisation, an image made material in the revitalisation of Pacific voyaging. Indeed, the ocean as a symbolic of distinctive Pacific lifeways, epitomised in Epeli Hau’ofa’s rallying cry “the ocean in us,”80 has a long history, manifest, for instance, in the adoption of a moana (sea) ontology and epistemology by Pacific scholars.81 Human-non-human relations in marine spaces also evoke counter-movements. Goldberg-Hiller and Silva write of the connectivity between native Hawaiians and ocean dwelling non-human others, such as ancestral sharks, to question in what way a privileging of indigenous ideas of human boundaries has “created space for native Hawaiian aspirations for autonomy and self-determination?”82 Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the effect of human-induced mortality, including fishing, on the endemic Māui dolphin prompted a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. In oral history, accounts of Ngahuia’s neighbouring hapū, a dolphin taniwha accompanied the ocean migration from Hawaiiki to Aoteaora, “connecting itself to the tribe such that the two interconnected constitute their identity.” Claimants argued that the government’s Threat Management Plan, by failing to ban gill-net and trawl fisheries in waters less than 100 metres deep, inadequately protected the species from extinction and thus breached the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in failing to actively protect a taonga (treasure).83

A recent scholarly interest in the ocean suggests the existence of distinctive seascape, wet and indigenous ontologies, saltwater socialities, multispecies relationships and the gendered nature of waves.84 This is a welcome intervention after decades of neglect wherein the ocean was depicted as an anthropocentric mare nullius, or a frontier of scientific, technological and capitalist expansion devoid of sociality, people and sentient ocean inhabitants. Deloughrey notes, however, that the relatively poetic concepts of “fluidity, flows, routes and mobility” in this literatures serves to deemphasise the language of geopolitics, such as “mobile offshore bases [and] high-sea exclusion zones.”85 While inequality on land is public knowledge, much less attention is paid to socio-economic inequities in marine spaces (though fisheries anthropologists have long written on this topic). Applying the concept of precarity to the maritime domain has the potential to generate critical insights. In this paper, I have used precarity to explain the specific means by which saltwater socio-natures are being comprehensively transformed, pointed to the distinctive features of precarity for indigenous peoples in colonial settler states, and analysed the way that both crises interact. This is especially important as the world’s oceans become the marine components of a general environmental crisis in which “the very sources of overharvesting, pollution, and carbon dioxide emission are also thinking, responding actors.”86 itq fisheries management, I have argued, signifies a hyper privatised nature in which agency is constrained by systemic biases. Māori settlement quota, however, simultaneously references something else, the precarity of indigeneity, for instance, and the artful balancing of communalism and individualism in a post-settlement era. Here fish on a commercial vessel, designated as either quota stock or customary take, serves as a vivid metaphor.

Comment on Fiona McCormack’s “Precarity, Indigeneity and the Market in Māori Fisheries”

Jason Mika

Massey University

In her article, Fiona McCormack establishes Māori fisheries as a narrative representative of the possession-dispossession-repossession cycle of Māori rights over lands and waterways, which is to be found in every deed for the settlement of treaty claims in Aotearoa New Zealand. As an Indigenous people in full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands, forests, fisheries and other properties, guaranteed to them under the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840, there ought not have been anything for Māori to worry about;87 but as McCormack demonstrates, there was indeed. A settler populace intent on acquiring previously unavailable means for their prosperity, a cadre of unscrupled European entrepreneurs profiting from Māori land sales, and a complicit colonial government with an immediately contested claim to sovereignty, all made the eventual dispossession of Māori fisheries inevitable.88

The diabolical saga of Māori fisheries is lucidly recounted in the Waitangi Tribunal’s 1988 report on the Muriwhenua fishing claim.89 Importantly, the tribunal90 finds, among other things, that: (i) pre-contact Māori controlled New Zealand’s fisheries trade using customary methods equal or surperior to those introduced; (ii) under the treaty, Māori rights to fisheries were protected, unless Māori agreed to relenquish them; (iii) from 1866 onward the Crown implemented laws that removed Māori control over their fisheries, providing Māori with small fishing reserves that were never implemented; (iv) the Crown assisted non-Māori into the business of fishing, eventually making fishing an unlicenced activity from 1963, causing over-fishing, which was to be addressed through quota as new property right. The tribunal concluded that the Crown had failed in its treaty obligation by awarding non-Māori fishing rights that were guaranteed to Māori under the Treaty of Waitangi.91 The quota management system (qms) in effect maintained prejudicial assumptions of Māori fishing rights as noncommercial and inconsequential, dominant themes in colonial narrative and policy since 1866.92

In June 1988, Māori and Crown representatives met in Wellington to discuss the implications of the tribunal’s findings, beginning a process of settlement negotiation.93 Māori commercial fisheries claims were finally settled in two main statutes.94 First, the Māori Fisheries Act 198995 established the Māori Fisheries Commission whose role was threefold: (i) to facilitate Māori entry into the business and activity of fishing; (ii) to receive 10 per cent of commercial quota; and (iii) to administer $10 million in settlement cash.96 This was regarded as an interim settlement. Second, the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Settlement Act 199297 implemented the deed of settlement for Māori fisheries claims (the “Sealord deal”) signed between Māori and the Crown on 23 September 1992.98 As part of this settlement, the Crown gave Māori $150 million to buy a 50 per cent share of Sealord Products (now Sealord Group) and allocated to Māori 20 per cent of new quota added to the qms.99 In return, Māori agreed that all their commercial rights were settled, and in addition, they agreed to customary fishing regulations, to halt litigation and claims and to support the qms.100 The allocation of these settlement rights and assets to Māori took somewhat longer, finally resolved by the Māori Fisheries Act 2004, which reconstituted Te Ohu Kaimoana to oversee the allocation process and Aotearoa Fisheries to manage Māori commercial fishing interests.101

While Māori are just getting back into the business and activity of fishing, at the iwi (tribes) and pan-iwi levels at least, four important points allude to the kind of precarity that McCormack discusses. First, as participants in the business of fishing, Māori are obliged, like other commercial operators, to seriously consider how they are going to be sustainable in their fishing activities given the effects of oceanic pollution, especially, for example, the insidious nature of micro-plastics102 and the risks of overfishing.103 Second, in an industry dominated by large-scale processors shielded by high entry costs,104 how are iwi (tribes) enabling whānau (families) and hapū (subtribes) to participate in the business of fishing?105 Third, how is mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) being integrated into Māori fisheries and responding to emerging science-based regimes like ecosystem-based management (ebm)?106 The fourth issue relates to the vigilance required to guard against contemporary breaches of the treaty through, for example, decisions which attempt to usurp Māori marine-based property rights.107

Case study evidence suggests Māori marine-based enterprises are incorporating oceanic sustainability into their strategies and activities, but the pace, scope and effect of this is mediated by the need to maintain viable enterprises.108 Some iwi are supportive of whānau and hapū-based enterprises and are contributing quota and other resources for this purpose, while others are less inclined or able to do so.109 The Māori marine economy remains dominated by a few large-scale pan-iwi and iwi enterprises with the quota and capacity to participate across the fisheries value chain.110 Collaboration among iwi, initially to collectively trade quota, is expanding, and in some instances, extending to the processing and marketing of fish in conjunction with established fishing enterprises.111 Collectivisation is helping alleviate the tyranny of capital constraints and active management by Māori of their fisheries resources is developing essential human capabilities. The Tangaroa Research programme within the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge is contributing “new” knowledge on how “old” knowledge is shaping Māori participation in the business and activity of fishing and blue economies generally.112 Reid, Rout, and Mika,113 for instance, present an institutional analysis on how power and control over Māori fisheries remains concentrated in the hands of officials and a web of governmental entities divorced from Māori communities. Clearly, any shift in marine policy toward ecosystem-based management must be commensurate with not only protecting, but upholding Māori marine-based property rights consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.114

Now returning to McCormack’s treatment. Precarity has evolved as a contemporary political concept to describe a sense of powerlessness and placelessness, particularly of displaced labour, but of other vulnerable groups as well, separated from states of institutional stability to an enforced existential contingency.115 Precarity in this sense is attributed to capitalistic exploitation and policies, which reinforce its prevalence from which self-extrication is extremely difficult.116 Precarity is also associated with resistance of the precariat against socioeconomic disparity and structural disadvantage, including for example, the EuroMayDay protests.117 While rarely associated with indigeneity, McCormack relates three forms of precarity to Māori fisheries: (i) the precarity of ownership and dispossession as earlier recounted; (ii) environmental precarity as viewed from Indigenous ecological knowledge and experience; and (iii) the precarity of Māori labour, which has deep colonial and capitalist roots, which according to McCormack, has overtones of personal and institutional racism.

McCormack uses precarity as an analytical device to reveal multiple discontinuities in Māori fisheries, challenging assumptions about colonial dispossession as fait accompli, a natural order of disempowerment for the good of a nascent settler state and postcolonial repossession of Māori marine assets through treaty settlements as fair and just, full and final. As McCormack points out: “[t]his distinction is critical if we are to resist the tendency of precarity to dehistoricise and flatten inequalities, or otherwise divert attention away from the structural causes of precarity towards subjective experiences.” Is it possible to fully appreciate the causality and perpetuity of dispossession by studying the experience of the dispossessed? Not according to McCormack; studying dispossession and the role of the dispossessor are also necessary.

Thus, while precarity is usually stripped of its historical and structural antecedents, McCormack averts this limitation to illustrate how the colonial ideology of replacing one paradigm with another succeeded in Māori fisheries, not as a single shot-policy affecting a few individuals over a confined space, but the entire country and all Māori and their fisheries. Intimate relationships between Māori and their salt water resources regulated over preceding centuries by an epistemology and ontology of ecological interdependency were supplanted by market-centred, state-led capitalism. Treaty rights were replaced by an assumption of marine and coastal spaces as common property, devoid of their indigeneity. This is evident in the separation between Māori as kaitiaki or human custodians and their kin — the fish as non-human actors in salt water spaces. McCormack urges care in avoiding reinforcing imprecise depictions of precarity, which mask egregious acts as irreversible and socioeconomic disparity as natural because there is no alternative.

In a post settlement era, McCormack argues that individual transferable quota (itq) systems “dichotomise nature and culture, facilitate capital accumulation and generate class inequality, which occurs irrespective of the decision of Māori leaders to act in capitalist or non-capitalist ways.” The precarity of indigeneity in Māori fisheries for McCormack is structural and ongoing; treaty settlement organisations are forced to separate customary and commercial take, focus on wealth generation even in the absence of Māori fishers and sustain the new institution of customary fisheries with unpaid labour. In order to restore their fishing rights, interests and knowledge systems, Māori must participate in a system that reinforces the precarity of their indigeneity.

Despite the rigidities of precarity, McCormack also sees the concept as a mobilising force for re-establishing an “affective and livelihood dimension of fishing” for Māori. This is exemplified through pātaka kai (food storehouse) systems for distributing fish caught by commercial means for customary purposes and the re-emergence of Indigenous knowledge systems, challenging dominant Euro-American assumptions of the oceans as disembedded economic resources available for unending exploitation within ecological limits.118 McCormack draws on a vast array of relationships (cultural, practical, commercial, communal, aesthetic, historic and contemporary) Māori have had and do have with their maritime spaces to highlight the need for change in structural (systemic and institutional) objectivities rather than personal subjectivities alone in responding to manifestations of precarity in the indigeneity of Māori fisheries.

While precarity might be apt to expose anomalies in our memories and assumptions about the goodness and rightness of capitalism, there is some doubt over its capacity to elucidate viable alternative conceptualisations of economy.119 However, McCormack successfully manages to show movement in this direction, through reference to post-settlement Māori economic practice as to how Māori are confronting precarity in fisheries. This includes actions to satiate consumptive needs of Māori for fish using hybrid systems of commercial and customary harvest, efforts to re-engage in the cultural and commercial activity of fishing as owners, managers and workers within Māori fishing enterprises, and restoring cultural, pragmatic and spiritual connectivity to the moana (seas) and cultural narratives of the moana. The case for precarity as a perceptive analytical tool within Māori fisheries is made, but the story of how precarity as a mobilising agent will play out in tension-filled post-settlement tribal economies under emerging scientific, economic and policy regimes for the management of marine environments is still unfolding.120

Enclosing Blue Commons, Generating Blue Growth? Comment on Fiona McCormack’s “Precarity, Indigeneity and the Market in Māori Fisheries”

Edyta Roszko

Chr. Michelsen Institute

The official opening of the 4th International Symposium on Fisheries Crime taking place in Copenhagen in October, 2018 started with remarks about the “huge potential in marine spaces we control,” which are now threatened by transnational organized fisheries crime – the umbrella term for a wide spectrum of illegal activities in fisheries. Co-hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the United Nations, the symposium promoted at the center of its agenda a “healthy ocean ecosystem ensured by sustainable farming and fishing operations as precondition of blue growth.”121 Here, the concept of “blue growth” denoted a reconstitution of the relation between “sustainability” and “extraction” – a nexus evolving in various historical and geographic contexts, but particularly through the operation of enclosures, capitalist accumulation and struggle for resources.122 In this process, so-called “blue commons” such as seas and oceans are emerging as a political space characterized by climate uncertainty, territorial conflicts, transnational organized fisheries crime as well as marine and maritime governance, which pushes various “sustainable development” agendas that are increasingly wound up with capitalist accumulation processes.

In her article “Precarity, Indigeneity and the Market in Māori Fisheries,” anthropologist Fiona McCormack brings to our attention the relation between enclosures, capitalist accumulation and struggle for resources in Māori fisheries that operates precisely within the conflicting binaries of sustainability and extraction. Paradoxically, the introduction of a property rights system for fisheries in New Zealand in the early 1990s and the translation of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi into Māori historical rights to ocean commons is now articulated in terms of individual fishing rights and quotas. However, an adverse consequence of embracing a private property rationale was that the tribal relations within the hierarchical structure of Māori society were replaced with capitalist ones, alienating Māori not only from their ancestral fishing grounds but also from each other. What McCormack convincingly shows in her article is that the incorporation of Māori fisheries into an Individual Transferable Quota system aggravated colonial era dispossessions, turning social relations – that historically sustained Māori society for centuries – into a new asset-based capitalist management regime. Such a shift from communal to individual, neo-liberal ownership creates not only environmental but also existential precarity. Here, economic opportunity rather than collective interest dictates and facilitates the process of extracting economic value from the sea, thereby positioning Māori fisheries between aspired sustainability and actual extraction, consequently accelerating the ecological demise of marine spaces.

I would like to take this point further to allow us to view the past and present as analytically interconnected temporal scales of analysis. Importantly, this approach also allows for a view of the present as a historically contingent outcome of historical processes. Historically, the clash between enclosures and commons has a long genealogy, going to the heart of colonization and dispossession in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Karl Marx was the first to theorize enclosures as dispossession that forced peasant off their land and thus proletarianized them (i.e. forced to sell their labor/bodies) in what could be called an early instance of precarity.123 Drawing on Marx’s discussion of primitive accumulation as a historical moment of separation of producers from the means of production, historian E.P. Thompson pointed out that the Great Enclosure was as a global “movement” that was established first in England and Western Europe and then spread out to other parts of the world, introducing private property of and exclusive access to resources.124

Some historians extended his argument by arguing that “[w]hile the long-run tendency may indeed have been in the direction of an enclosed private property regime that largely excluded natives, colonization was also accompanied by the establishment of commons.”125 The dispossession of colonized people took place precisely “through the clash of an indigenous commons and a colonial commons” – as Allan Greer argues.126 The European settlers established their open commons in economic practice, only later followed by government and laws.127 Moreover, a perceived lack of productivity of the “natives” was used precisely as an argument for colonization because unproductive land and resources had to be exploited by (European) “man.” In the postwar years of the 1920s, the new colonial policies would find its way in the rhetoric of mise en valeur (translated as economic valorization) according to which the colonial powers should guide colonial societies towards increasing their productivity, thereby improving their own economic situation.128

Let me dwell on Greer’s idea of the clash between indigenous and colonial commons to conceptualize how the oceans and seas are political spaces, which are more and more tied up with capitalist accumulation. What I found interesting in the context of New Zealand is that Māori people had a separate word for “sovereignty” over the sea denoting the control over near-shore and offshore fishing grounds, which, in turn, were an extension of their territorial control over the land.129 In principle, we could say that the vernacular Māori notion of sovereignty as an extension of land did not differ much from the European seventeenth century cannon-shot rule by which a “state has territorial sovereignty of that coastal area within three miles of land.”130 Yet, it differed substantially from the European capitalist notion of property in the sense that control over sea areas was not “something that could be individually owned and alienated.”131

Thus, when in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries European settlers arrived in New Zealand, they did not recognize Māori sovereignty over areas and resources in “open seas.” Such blunt denial was made possible because their own conception of the commons was based on Hugo Grotius’ (1583–1645) influential notion that the high seas cannot be possessed and, because of that, the use of sea is granted to all by natural law.132 According to this logic the two main uses of the high seas – navigation and fishing – were considered inexhaustible and for that reason Europeans argued that they must remain open to all.133 The incompatibility of indigenous and European logics resulted in a situation that the Māori sea commons – particularly, their fishing grounds lying further offshore – were acknowledged neither by colonial courts nor by governments.134 Furthermore, the clash between an indigenous commons and a colonial commons was also perpetuated through a capital-intensive, technology-driven and putatively “civilized” operation of labor introduced by the Europeans. With their historical modes of access and operation at sea and lacking private capital that could acquire ships, engines and refrigeration, Māori fishers could not compete with the new advanced technologies of harvesting and storage technologies and, therefore, were practically excluded from the sea.135 The gradual dispossession of Māori and the consecutive removal of their communal access rights to the sea led them to realize that by re-claiming sovereignty over their fisheries – which was theoretically (but never practically) guaranteed in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi – they could claim Individual Transferable Quota, in order to be able to participate in capitalist extraction of marine resources from which they were largely excluded.

If we think now through the binary of indigenous and colonial commons, McCormack’s argument is even more interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it shows that the Individual Transferable Quota emerged as part of “Māori indigenous claims against colonial alienations,” which led to a fusion of customary and capitalist modes of operation.136 Secondly, it shows that collective sovereignty as a right to specific areas and resources was used to claim private property and access to marine resources, thereby contributing to maritime enclosures. This begs the question of how the historically recent legal regime of exclusive economic zones (eez) plays out in this specific postcolonial process of capitalist accumulation.

Territorial waters of twelve nautical miles and eez of 200 nautical miles outward from the coast into the sea – as defined by a new legal regime known as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – gave coastal states full authority to exercise exclusive sovereignty rights over the exploration, exploitation and conservation of all natural resources within those limits.137 As the new regime became widely accepted and globalized, most of the countries enclosed or seek to enclose and nationalize their fisheries and ocean spaces within the maritime border of the new eezs. In other words, eezs allow coastal countries to extend their territorial sovereignty and, in some cases, to claim high seas or open sea areas – that until the late twentieth century was a zone of connection and a resource commons – as their exclusive state property. From this perspective, Māori sovereignty’s claims and their embrace of the Individual Transferable Quota system position themselves within such historically recent state ownership of the sea.

While Māori used sovereignty rights to participate in capitalist production, my own research on fisheries in Vietnam and China in the disputed South China Sea shows an opposite process, namely that capitalist extraction of marine resources could be used to claim sovereignty over the sea. The expansion and overlaps between the maritime borders of the new eezs of China, Vietnam and several asean countries result in a situation where marine resources function as a sort of “rival goods,” particularly between Vietnamese, Chinese and the Filipino fishers. These fishers exploit high value marine resources – including endangered species such as giant clams, red coral reef, sea turtles and sea cucumber – in such quantities that it prevents other users from accessing them and in so doing they turn massive exploitation into sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.138 At the same time, however, driven by growing demand for fish and the simultaneous decline of marine resources in their coastal waters, both China and Vietnam encourage fishers to shift from inshore to offshore fishing in the South China Sea by providing heavy subsidies. For example, in order to be eligible for state support, Vietnamese fishers have to make four fishing trips a year, each lasting 15 days and going out at least 150 nautical miles within the South China Sea. Since 2015, small Vietnamese fishing fleets have been appearing in the coastal waters of Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Palau, northern Australia, Vanuatu Islands, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Tokelau where they engaged in harvesting of high value marine goods.139 In the case of China, those fishers who operate in the disputed waters of the South China Sea receive additional fishing subsidies.140 China reinforces this trend by providing heavy subsidies to fishers to purchase steel-hulled trawlers equipped with high-tech navigational and communication systems and by expanding their operations to the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans.141 While both China and Vietnam do not directly support overfishing or the extraction of highly-valued endangered marine species in national or foreign eezs, the fishers’ presence and activities in the disputed and severely depleted waters of the South China Sea serve as a manifestation of those countries’ sovereignty rights. Competing for fishing grounds and marine goods, Chinese, Vietnamese and the Filipino fishers occasionally get into violent clashes, while on other occasions they choose to make profitable trading deals with each other whilst still at sea.142

What a summary comparison of fisheries in New Zealand and in the South China Sea shows is that when parts of oceans and seas became territorially bounded state property, fishers’ relations with their customary fishing grounds transformed dramatically and became linked to capitalist accumulation. In that sense, eezs could be conceptualized as the first step towards the privatization of seas and oceans that made possible such initiatives as the Individual Transferable Quota system or so-called blue growth, which includes oil and gas concessions given to big multinational companies or blue bioeconomy, just to mention a few examples.143 In my view, the alienation of fishers’ labor and the displacement of actual participation of fisheries at the sea is a central issue in McCormack’s article – a phenomenon that could be observed around the globe, including in the South China Sea where the Individual Transferable Quota system is absent. From this perspective, whether this is the establishment of an Individual Transferable Quota system or subsidies provided to Chinese and Vietnamese fisheries, both management schemes reflect a global process of blue growth-cum-blue enclosures and of capitalist governance of seas and oceans that are taking different forms on regional and local levels.

In this context, the legal regime of eezs – with all its paradoxical manifestations, such as the Individual Transferable Quota system, fishery subsidies, and so on – inserts itself into a new rhetoric and practice of blue growth, as a new enactment of mise en valeur. In that regard, the old colonial obsession to make land, woodlands, swamps, marshes, lakes, rivers, oceans and seas productive turns full circle in the present-day capitalist rhetoric of blue growth according to which the oceans and seas are supposed to “produce food for billions of people, generate income for millions, and remain in a ‘wilderness’ state.”144 In this process, blue growth denotes a new round of ongoing enclosures that privatizes global commons and public assets and allows for the emergence of new competing modes of production.145 The power of McCormack’s essay lies in her ability to show that when people reclaim their rights but organize their labor and extraction within the current capitalist mode of production, this gives rise to both alienation and more conditions of precarity.

AcknowledgmentThe research and writing for this commentary received support from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement No. 802223).

Response to Comments

Fiona McCormack

University of Waikato

I appreciate the thorough reading and provocative commentary provided by Jason Mika and Edyta Roszko, both of whom draw attention to issues at the heart of my essay. For Roszko the “conflicting binaries of sustainability and extraction” inherent in Blue Economic expansions allow for an examination of contiguous history, that is, the colonial contestation between enclosures and commons. The resulting dispossessions, of people from land and the proletarianization of bodies, could, Roszko writes, be called “an early instance of precarity,” now visible in oceans and seas as these become more and more tied up with capitalist accumulation. For Mika, the precarity inherent in Māori fisheries manifests currently as tensions between collectivisation and the tyranny of capitalist constraints, for instance: the moral obligation to be sustainable in fishing activities and facilitate the livelihood aspirations of smaller Māori kin groups, whilst operating in the context of marine environmental deterioration and a fishing industry dominated by large-scale processors shielded by high entry costs. This tension is also reflected in the desire to integrate matauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) with scientific ecosystem-based management, while contending with a fisheries regime modelled on a single-species, extractive approach. Precarity is also expressed in the need to remain vigilant of attempts to effect dispossessions of indigenously reclaimed marine property rights. Both authors, thus, concur with my intervention in theorisations of precarity, and the need to reconceptualise the concept in the South.

There are three main pillars to the argument put forward in my essay: First, understanding indigenous precarity requires analytical attention be given to histories of dispossession enacted before and beyond the neoliberalisation of labour; second, the current condition of environmental precarity in marine environments is inclusive of human-non-human relationships and the production of inequality. These relationships are made further precarious by the implementation of market-based environmental technologies, such as Individual Transferable Quota (itq) systems in fisheries; and third, the incorporation of indigenous people into such regimes gives rise to a political ecology of the precarious, that is, the existence of existential precarity as kin groups grapple with the contradictions arising from participation in diametrically opposed value systems. There is a further strand to my argument as presented, that of the mobilising potential of precarity. In response to the insights offered by Mika and Roszko, I will attempt to extend my argument below.

Roszko suggests that a crucial axis of analysis is that of the relationship between sustainability and extraction, a nexus variously reconstituted across time and space, particularly through processes of enclosures, capitalist accumulation and the struggle for resources. In the context of seas and oceans, “blue commons” have emerged as a politicised space wherein the aforementioned phenomena are spectacularly played out – in conflicts surrounding transnational organized fishing crime, in the expansion of states’ territorial claims within and outside of Exclusive Economic Zones (eez) and in marine governance drives for sustainable development agendas, the latter of which are increasingly intertwined with market processes, such as those present in fish farming, capture fisheries, deep sea mining ventures though also in the financing of large-scale marine protected areas. For Roszko, the current situation positions Māori fisheries “between aspired sustainability and actual extraction,” and thereby contributes to ecological demise in marine spaces, a circumstance, she argues, that can be understood though historicising enclosures.

Drawing on the work of E.P. Thompson, Marx and Greer,146 Roszko shows how colonial enclosures, characterised by capitalist accumulation and the imposition of new forms and relations of property, evolve over time. This momentum is captured in Greer’s argument that the dispossession of indigenous peoples takes place “through the clash of an indigenous commons and a colonial commons.”147 That is, European settlers established their open commons in economic practices, to be then entrenched in governance and laws; a clash that is perpetuated “through a capital-intensive, technology driven and putatively ‘civilized’ operation of labour.”148 In the case of Māori, this led to the removal of communal access rights to seascapes, their gradual alienation from commercial fisheries development and the eventual reclaiming of rights over fisheries, as guaranteed in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi; the Individual Transferable Quota property returned to Māori in compensation for historical alienations has, however, engendered their participation in a hyper privatised system wherein leasing quota to large corporations is, I observe, the predominant fishing activity engaged in by most tribes.

Roszko astutely identifies the imposition of 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones (eez) as a specific moment in a global trajectory, stimulating both capital accumulation and state-level marine enclosures, and questions how this historically recent legal regime, “plays out in this specific [New Zealand] postcolonial process of capitalist accumulation?” She posits a comparison between fisheries in the South China Sea and the development of Māori fisheries, thus “while Māori used sovereignty rights to participate in capitalist production … the disputed South China Sea shows an opposite process, namely that capitalist extraction of marine resources could be used to claim sovereignty over the sea.” I would like to complicate this comparison by revisiting the role of the eez in the development of industrial fisheries in New Zealand and the post-settlement (rather than post-colonial) incorporation of Māori into the itq system.149

In her review of neoliberal economic theory in fisheries management, Mansfield150 shows how a concern with property has been a central feature since the 1950s, a period marking the infiltration of neoclassical economic thought into fisheries policy and a pre-Hardin articulation of the tragedy of the commons thesis.151 While eezs, as state-derived jurisdictions, may seem anachronistic to privatisation and the “rolling back” of state control, the hallmark of neoliberalisation, the very creation of this new expanse set the stage for new rounds of privatisation. Notably, fisheries economists generally supported the move towards expanded political jurisdiction in the oceans as it had the redeeming feature that the space could be subjected to further enclosures through limited licenses or other privatisation schemes.152

Until the 1960s commercial fishing was a relatively small-scale activity in New Zealand, subjugated to agriculture, the “backbone” of the economy.153 Most of the fleet traditionally concentrated in the inshore sector and distribution was largely confined to the domestic market. A desire for expansion became prevalent in the early 1960s, as indicated by the establishment of a Fishing Industry Board in 1963 mandated to champion economic growth. The extension of state property, from three, to nine, to twelve miles, culminating in the declaration of the eez in 1977, was also a significant driver. Much of the incentive for these expansive property claims came from the perceived encroachment of foreign fishing vessels into offshore waters (those between 12nm and 200nm) and the desire to recapture this fishing wealth. In 1977, for instance, ninety percent of the 476,000 tonnes of demersal finfish catch from the eez area was caught by vessels mainly from Japan, Korea and the Soviet Union.154 The Ministry in charge of fisheries addressed this by the setting of Total Allowable Catches (tacs) for deeper-water species in the eez, allocating these preferentially to the domestic industry, and only subsequently to foreign fleets under license and government bilateral agreements. Hence, similar to the situation described by Roszko in the case of disputed fisheries in the South China Sea, advancing the capitalist extraction of marine resources was used by the New Zealand state to claim sovereignty over the sea. This motivation is also evident in the implementation of itq fisheries.

By the early 1980s, a global discourse in fisheries economics had emerged advocating the advantages of privatisation and, contrarily, the dire consequences of open access ownership, as state eezs were by then conceived. This repositioning of state eezs as open access, alongside the ongoing existence of foreign vessels in offshore waters, was a powerful impetus behind the move to privatise fishing rights in New Zealand. By 1979, 26 joint ventures existed, exploiting species not generally caught by New Zealand vessels. In 1982, tax incentives, which had been used to entice domestic companies to enter into partnering relationships, were removed in preparation for the introduction of itqs. Importantly, the introduction of this technology was seen as a means through which the domestic industry could increase business opportunities and build capacity in the deep-water sector. Indeed, the security offered by the privatisation of fishing rights is perceived as responsible for quota holders investing in deep-water fishing vessels and in the growth of foreign exports.155

The development of Māori fisheries within the context of capitalist accumulation and the advancement of states’ marine sovereignty claims, as described, needs further elaboration. Rather than using indigenous sovereignty rights to participate in capitalist production, Māori claims to fisheries are situated in a longer decolonial narrative within which the relationship between kin, the sea and non-human others is given prominence. This sociality is detailed in interview excerpts and ethnographic descriptions in my essay. It is also apparent in the reflections of Archie Taiaroa, a Māori leader, on the 1992 fisheries settlement in which he gives prominence to dreams and hopes for a future and of Māori claiming their birthright as tangata whenua (people of the land).156 Importantly, the fisheries legislation introduced to implement itqs evoked large-scale Māori opposition to their exclusion from newly privatised fishing rights as well as the imposition of a regime deemed incompatible with indigenous ways of organising the economy. While the former critique was eventually countered by the Crown’s promise to distribute fishing quota to tribes, the latter was quelled by the Crown’s refusal to consider any other fisheries management system, ominous comments regarding the threat of opposition to the progress of other indigenous treaty settlements157 and the very real possibility that once privatised, fishing rights would be transferred out of Māori ownership in perpetuity.158

Translating Individual Transferable Quota into recompensated Māori fishing rights is a highly contested process, involving mediation between ostensibly different economies and value systems. Although the end result may be similar, that is, the settlement of Māori claims to fisheries has given rise to their participation in itq neoliberalisations, this does not imply that indigeneity is thus motivated, nor that indigenous subjectivity is transformed. Indeed the “political ecology of the precarious” I refer to in my essay describes the contradictory socio-natures that arise when indigeneity becomes entangled with market environmentalism. It is worth re-emphasising the constraints imposed by this articulation.

An orientation towards property rights as a means to regulate the profit motive of individuals, is fundamental to neoliberal attempts to rationalise fisheries; itq systems do so by harnessing individual decision making to assumed economic and ecological realities. Carothers and Chambers, for instance, show how discourses of neoliberalisation combine with those linking the ecological health of the world’s oceans to the widespread implementation of private property. The resultant discursive formation has enrolled a broad set of vocal and powerful proponents to “make these logics appear natural, defining features of human society.”159 itqs then become truthlike, naturalised beyond critique, making it difficult “to imagine how things could have been ordered differently.”160 Similarly, in his analysis of salmon quota fisheries in southeast Alaskan communities, Langdon shows how powerful “leviathan” interests operate to secure itq endurance as well as alienate indigenous Alaskan fisheries.161 In itq governance the type of property characterising Māori commercial fisheries is referred to as a Community Development Quota. As such, the assumption in neoliberal fisheries rationalisations that some type of property rights are necessary to harness and regulate the profit motive of individuals, or communities, is apparent. Rather than a recognition of indigenous people as having unique rights, Community Development Quota suggests the need for indigenous people to use their resources more efficiently. Further, the neoliberal governmentality performed in itqs, by incentivising fishing participants to act as rational individuals who maximise individual financial return at all costs,162 conceals the role of privatisation in transforming Māori social relations, institutions, communities and organisations. This neoliberal governmentality persists in the marketisation of fishing rights, directing attention to the financial health of quota in trading markets as opposed to stewardship over the sea.

In Mika’s response to my essay, the alienation of Māori ocean commons takes on an added affective tone as it confronts the violence of settler colonialism as acted on his kin. Referring to the “diabolical saga of Māori fisheries,” Mika shows how racist assumptions regarding the “non-commercial and inconsequential” nature of indigenous fisheries was implemented in fisheries legislation from colonisation through to the introduction of the Quota Management System. And, irrespective of the “full and final” settlement of Māori fisheries in 1992, sovereignty is far from assured: “power and control … remains concentrated in the hands of officials and a web of governmental entities divorced from Māori communities.” Further, the articulation of indigeneity with market environmentalism produces tensions, “in order to restore their fishing rights, interests and knowledge system, Māori must participate in a system that reinforces the precarity of their indigeneity.” Mika, however, also stresses the longevity of Māori ocean commons, the ongoing extension of social relations between humans and between humans and non-human others, irrespective of the prejudices embedded in settler colonial political ecologies and the possession-dispossession-repossession cycle of Māori fisheries. Drawing on these indigenous resources, precarity is mobilised to confront the need for structural change.

By emphasising the vast array of relationships Māori have with maritime spaces, including cultural, practical, commercial, communal, aesthetic, historic and contemporary ones, Mika provokes a re-consideration of the commons in ocean environments. Different understandings of the commons exist: those rooted in Hardin’s tragedy thesis,163 which cast the commons as a market failure, a proposition especially prominent in fisheries economics and management;164 and those propounded by common property theorists who argue, conversely, that under certain conditions local people implement rules for the successful management of common pool resources.165 Commons are also perceived to arise as an outcome of statecraft, as illustrated in the extension of territorial seas to 200 nautical miles and the creation of marine protected areas, as well as in the reconfiguration of indigenous marine tenures to better align with the interests of colonial states.166 Additionally, commons may be ethnographically described as an interweaving of people and the sea, wherein a different nature-culture binding is theorised to occur.167 Following this, scholarship on commoning makes a distinction between the commons as property, bounded and confined to legalistic realms, and commoning as relationality, which, being freed from attachment to “things” has a transformative capacity.168

What Mika clearly shows, however, in the case of Māori fisheries, is that the transformative capacity of commons for indigenous peoples is tied to reclaimed property, now reconstituted as fishing quota, and that property, in its signification of invaluable, inalienable, indigenous wealth, is being used to negotiate precarity. Hence, post-settlement economic practices include, “actions to satiate consumptive needs of Māori for fish using hybrid systems of commercial and customary harvest, efforts to re-engage in the cultural and commercial activity of fishing as owners, managers and workers within fishing enterprises, and restoring cultural, pragmatic and spiritual connectivity to the moana (seas) and cultural narratives of the moana.” Rather than grand moments of disruption, these openings point to the resistance, manipulation and/or reinterpretation enforced on itq neoliberalisations by collectivities, and indeed, market based regimes for exploiting and conserving the environment more generally. In the context of accelerating environmental degradation, the types of social and economic organisation as well as ecological interdependency these actions intimate, deserve critical attention.


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The launch can be viewed here:


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The authors discern that 22.8 percent of the Māori population are precariat, but that this the figure is likely to be undercounted. Statistically, Māori count for 13 percent and Pakeha 8.2 percent of temporary workers, and in unemployment figures, Māori number 12.4 percent whereas Pakeha number 4.4 percent (Stubbs et al, 122);

Stubbs, T., Cochrane, W., Uerata, L., Hodgetts, D. and Rua, M. (2017). The Māori Precariat: A Silhouette, p. 117.


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Ferris-Leary, H. (2013). An Analytical Perspective on Moana Research and the Case of Tongan Faiva. Doctoral dissertation, University of Auckland; Hendry, J. and Fitznor, L. eds. (2012). Anthropologists, Indigenous Scholars and the Research Endeavour: Seeking Bridges Towards Mutual Respect. Routledge.


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McCay, B. (2019). “Foreword.” In: T. King and G. Robinson eds. At Home in the Waves. Berghahn.


Kawharu, I.H. ed. (1989). Waitangi: Maori and Pakeha Perspectives of the Treaty of Waitangi. Oxford University Press.


Butterworth, G.V. (1990). Maori affairs. Wellington. Iwi Transition Agency and GP Books; Moon, P. (1998). “The Creation of the Sealord Deal.” Journal of the Polynesian Society 107(2): 145–174; Orange, C. (1987). The Treaty of Waitangi. Allen & Unwin; Walker, R. (2004). Ka whawhai tonu matou: Struggle Without End. Penguin.


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Waitangi Tribunal. (1988). Report of the Waitangi Tribunal on the Muriwhenua Fisheries Claim.


Waitangi Tribunal. (1988). Report of the Waitangi Tribunal on the Muriwhenua Fisheries Claim.


Bodwitch, H. (2017). “Challenges for New Zealand’s Individual Transferable Quota System: Processor Consolidation, Fisher Exclusion, and Māori Quota Rights.” Marine Policy 80: 88–95.


Bargh, B. (2016). The Struggle for Maori Fishing Rights: Te Ika a Maori. Huia Publishers; Mika, J.P. (2013). Tūtara Kauika: A Brief History of the Tūhoe Fisheries Charitable Trust. Tūhoe Fisheries Charitable Trust.


Te Ohu Kaimoana. (2003). He kawai amokura. Wellington, New Zealand.


Te Ohu Kaimoana. (2003). He kawai amokura.


Mika, J.P. (2013). Tūtara Kauika.


Moon, P. (1998). “The Creation of the Sealord Deal.”


Te Ohu Kaimoana. (2003). He kawai amokura.


Mahuika, M. (2006). “Māori Fishing.” In: M. Mulholland ed. State of the Māori Nation: Twenty-first-century Issues in Aotearoa. Reed.


Ngata, T. (2019). Mana moana, mana tangata. Paper presented at the Māori Fisheries Conference, 27 March, Novotel, Auckland Airport.


Simmons, G. et al. (2017). “New Zealand’s Fisheries Quota Management System: On An Undeserved Pedestal.” The Conversation 4 September.


Bodwitch, H. (2017). “Challenges for New Zealand’s Individual Transferable Quota System.”


Reid, J. and Rout, M. (2016). “Māori Tribal Economy: Rethinking the Original Economic Institutions.” In: T.L. Anderson ed. Unlocking the Wealth of Tribal Nations. Lexington Books.


Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge. (2018). Sustainable Seas – Ko ngā moana whakauka: Research book 2018. Wellington, New Zealand.


Pullar-Strecker, T. (2016). “Maori Fisheries Trust Takes Crown to High Court Over Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.” Stuff 20 March.


Rout, M. et al. (2019). Kaitiaki-centred Business Models: Case Studies of Māori Marine-based Enterprises in Aotearoa New Zealand. Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.


Rout, M. et al. (2019). Kaitiaki-centred Business Models.


Reid, J., Rout, M. and Mika, J.P. (2019). Mapping the Māori Marine Economy: Whai rawa, whai mana, whai oranga. Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.


Rout, M. et al. (2019). Kaitiaki-centred Business Models.


See for example: Jackson, A.-M., Mita, N. and Hakopa, H. (2017). Hui-te-ana-nui: Understanding Kaitiakitanga in Our Marine Environment. Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge; Joseph, R. et al. (2018). The Treaty, Tikanga Māori, Ecosystem-based Management, Mainstream Law and Power Sharing for Environmental Integrity in Aotearoa New Zealand – Possible Ways Forward. Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge; Rout, M. et al. (2018). Māori Marine Economy: A Review of Literature Concerning the Historical and Contemporary Structure of the Mäori Marine Economy. Massey University; Taylor, L., Whenua, T.T. and Hatami, B. (2018). How Current Legislative Frameworks Enable Customary Management and Ecosystem-based Management in Aotearoa New Zealand. Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.


Reid, J., Rout, M. and Mika, J.P. (2019). Mapping the Māori Marine Economy.


Mika, J.P. (2018). “The Role of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Building Indigenous Enterprises and Economies.” In: S. Katene ed. Conversations about Indigenous Rights: The UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People in Aotearoa New Zealand. Massey University Press.


Standing, G. (2011). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. Bloomsbury.


Neilson, B. and Rossiter, N. (2008). “Precarity as a Political Concept, or, Fordism as Exception.” Theory, Culture and Society 25(7–8): 51–72.


Neilson, B. and Rossiter, N. (2008). “Precarity as a Political Concept.”


Reid, J., Rout, M. and Mika, J.P. (2019). Mapping the Māori Marine Economy.


Bargh, M. (2014). “A Blue Economy for Aotearoa New Zealand?” Environment, Development and Sustainability 16(3): 459–470; Harmsworth, G.R. and Awatere, S. (2013). “Indigenous Māori Knowledge and Perspectives of Ecosystems.” In: J.R. Dymond ed. Ecosystem Services in New Zealand: Conditions and Trends. Manaaki Whenua Press.


Mika, J.P., Smith, G. H., Gillies, A. and Wiremu, F. (2019). “Unfolding Tensions within Post-settlement Governance and Tribal Economies in Aotearoa New Zealand.” Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy 13(3): 296–318.


The 4th International Symposium on Fisheries Crime, October 15, 2019, UN City, Copenhagen. See also European Commission (2017). “Report on the Blue Growth Strategy: Towards more sustainable growth and jobs in the blue economy.”


According to the EU interpretation, blue growth denotes “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, through entrepreneurship, investment, and research and innovation,” For the nexus between conservation and extraction see Büscher, B. and Davidov, V. eds. (2014). The Ecotourism-­Extraction Nexus: Political economies and rural realities of (un)comfortable bedfellows. Routledge; for the concept of “blue growth” see Barbesgaard, M. (2018). “Blue Growth: Savior or Ocean Grabbing?” The Journal of Peasant Studies 45(1): 130–149; Eikeset, A.M. et al. (2018). “What is Blue Growth? The Semantics of ‘Sustainable Development’ of Marine Environments.” Marine Policy 87: 177–179; Hill, A. (2017). “Blue Grabbing: Reviewing Marine Conservation in Redang Island Marine Park Malaysia.” Geoforum 79: 97–100.


Marx, K. (1976[1867]). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Penguin. For the nexus between precarity and proletariat, see Standing, G. (2011). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. Bloomsbury.


Thompson, E.P. (1993). Custom in Common. Penguin Books; Greer, A. (2012). “Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization of North America.” American Historical Review 117: 365–86.


Greer, A. (2012). “Commons and Enclosure,” p. 366; sea also Lennox, J. (2017). Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690–1763. The University of Toronto Press.


Greer, A. (2012). “Commons and Enclosure,” p. 366.


Greer, A. (2012). “Commons and Enclosure,” p. 366.


The programme of La mise en valeur des colonies française was put forward by French colonial minister and former governor-general of French Indochina, Albert Sarraut (1872–1962). Unger, C.R. (2018). International Development: A Postwar History. Bloomsbury Academic, p. 36.


De Allessi, M. (2012). “The Political Economy of Fishing Rights and Claims: The Maori Experience in New Zealand.” Journal of Agrarian Change 12(2–3), p. 393.


Law, J. and Martin E.A. (2009). A Dictionary of Law. 7th edition. Oxford University Press. For canon-shoot rule, see Baty, T. (1928). “The Three-mile Limit.” The American Journal of International Law 22(3): 503–537; Kent, H.S.K. (1954). “The Historical Origins of the Three-mile Limit.” The American Journal of International Law 48(4): 537–553.


De Allessi, M. (2012). “The Political Economy of Fishing Rights and Claims,” p. 394.


Hugo Grotius was a Dutch jurist and scholar whose work De Jure Belli ac Pacis (1625) laid the foundation for the development of International Law. See De Allessi, M. (2012). “The Political Economy of Fishing Rights and Claims,” p. 397; Steinberg, P.E. (2001). The Social Construction of the Ocean. Cambridge University Press.


Steinberg, P.E. (2001). The Social Construction.


Steinberg, P.E. (2001). The Social Construction, p. 379.


Steinberg, P.E. (2001). The Social Construction, pp. 396–397.


McCormack, F. “Precarity, Indigeneity and the Market in Māori Fisheries.” In this issue.


Steinberg, P. (2001). The Social Construction, pp. 138–150.


Roszko, E. (2019). “Locating China’s Maritime Silk Road in the Context of the South China Sea dispute.” In: C.A. Mendes, ed. China’s New Silk Road: An Emerging World Order. Routledge.


Zhang Hongzhou and Fengshi Wu. (2017). “China’s Marine Fishery and Global Ocean Extraction.” Global Policy 8(2): 221.


Zhang Hongzhou and Fengshi Wu. (2017). “China’s Marine Fishery,” pp. 216–220.


Roszko, E. (2017). “Fishermen and Territorial Anxieties in China and Vietnam: Narratives of the South China Sea beyond the Nation Frame.” Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 6(1): 20–51.


For privatization of the oceans, see McCormack F. (2017). Private Ocean: The Enclosure and Marketisation of the Seas. Pluto Press.


Liam, C., Havice, E. and McCall Howard, P. (2012). “The Political Economy and Ecology of Capture Fisheries: Market Dynamics, Resource Access and Relations of Exploitation and Resistance.” Journal of Agrarian Change 12(2): 177–203, p. 186.


Harvey, D. (2003). The New Imperialism. Oxford University Press.


Marx, K. (1976[1867]). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Penguin; Thompson, E.P. (1993). Custom in Common. Penguin; Greer, A. (2012). “Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization of North America.” American Historical Review 117: 365–86.


Greer, A. (2012) “Commons and Enclosure,” p. 366.


Roszko, E. This issue.


See McCormack F. (2017). Private Oceans: The Enclosure and Marketisation of the Seas. Pluto Press; McCormack, F. (2017). “Sustainability in New Zealand’s Quota Management System: A Convenient Story.” Marine Policy 80: 35–46.


Mansfield, B. (2004). “Neoliberalism in the Oceans: ‘Rationalization,’ Property Rights, and the Commons Question.” Geoforum 35(3): 313–326.


Hardin’s “tragedy” was predated by the work of fisheries economists Jens Warming (1911), Howard Gordon (1954) and Anthony Scott (1955) who cast the commons as a market failure.


Christy, F.T and Scott, A. (1965). The Common Wealth in Ocean Fisheries: Some Problems of Growth and Economic Allocation. Johns Hopkins University Press.


Connor, R. (2001). “Initial Allocation of Individual Transferable Quota in New Zealand Fisheries” In: Shotton Ross ed. Case Studies on the Allocation of Transferable Quota Rights in Fisheries. fao, Rome.


Sharp, B. (2008). “Designing Property Rights for Achieving Sustainable Development of the Oceans” In: M. Patterson and B. Glavovic eds. Ecological Economics of the Oceans and Coasts. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.


European Union Committee (2008). The Progress of the Common Fisheries Policy. Volume ii Evidence House of Lords, The Stationary Office Limited, London.


Bargh, B. (2016). The Struggle for Maori Fishing Rights: Te Ika a Maori. Huia Press.


Bargh, B. (2016). The Struggle for Maori Fishing Rights.


The Waitangi Tribunal cannot hear claims over privately owned property.


Carothers, C. and Chambers, C. (2012). “Fisheries Privatization and the Remaking of Fishery Systems.” Environment and Society 3(1): 39–59, p. 41.


Carothers, C. and Chambers, C. (2012). “Fisheries Privatization,” p. 59.


Langdon, S. (2018). “Approaching Leviathan: Efforts to Establish Small-Scale, Community Based Commercial Salmon in Fisheries in Southeast Alaskan Indigenous Communities” In: G.M. Winder ed. Fisheries, Quota Management and Quota Transfer: Rationalization through Bio-economics. Springer.


Barnett, A., Messenger, R. and Wiber, M. (2017). “Enacting and Contesting Neoliberalism in Fisheries: The Tragedy of Commodifying Lobster Access Rights in Southwest Nova Scotia.” Marine Policy 80: 60–68.


Hardin, G. (1968). “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162: 1243–1248.


Longo, S., Clausen, R. and Clark, B. (2015). The Tragedy of the Commodity: Oceans, Fisheries, and Aquaculture. Rutgers University Press.


Ostrom, E. (2015). Governing the Commons. Cambridge University Press.


McCormack, F. (2018). “Māori Saltwater Commons: Property, Wealth and Inequality.” Commoning Ethnography 1(1): 9–31.


Helmreich, S. (2011). “Nature/Culture/Seawater.” American Anthropologist 113(1): 132–144.


Linebaugh, P. (2009). The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All. University of California Press; Linebaugh, P. (2014). Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance.PM Press.

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