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The Empirics of Equity: Examining Tuna Management Decisions in the Western and Central Pacific and Indian Oceans

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The Urban Coast Institute’s (UCI) Marine and Environmental Speaker Series resumes Sept. 22 at 12 p.m. with Angela Abolhassani, postdoctoral fellow for the Ocean Nexus Center at the University of Washington. The virtual lecture, “The Empirics of Equity: Examining Tuna Management Decisions in the Western and Central Pacific and Indian Oceans,” is free and open to the public. A Zoom link will be provided to participants upon registration.

An open Q&A session will be held following the presentation. The discussion will be moderated by Rechnitz Family/UCI Endowed Chair in Marine Environmental Law and Policy Randall Abate, who also serves as director of the Monmouth University Institute for Global Understanding.

Lecture Abstract: Equity issues are often foregrounded in intergovernmental negotiations that address transboundary environmental problems. However, while equity issues are a common feature of negotiations and the subject of a large literature on international environmental law and governance, equity itself has been subject to little empirical study. Limited research has been conducted investigating how states negotiate equity and what forms of equity are ultimately reflected in negotiation outcomes.

This presentation will discuss an empirical study of equity in transboundary tuna management. Tuna stocks are currently managed by a collection of five intergovernmental organizations called “tuna regional fisheries management organizations” (TRFMOs). These organizations assemble states at the regional scale to cooperate for the conservation and management of tuna stocks that cross national and international boundaries under international law. TRFMOs derive their management authority from treaty law agreed to by member states and annually adopt regulatory measures on tuna fishing activities in their regions. Equity issues within TRFMOs often emanate from tensions that arise between the conflicting interests of developing coastal states, which possess resource rights to tuna stocks, and industrialized fishing states, which flag vessels that track and harvest tuna stocks.

This study examined the law and practice of two TRFMOs—the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission—to determine how these organizations respond to equity issues arising from their work. Ultimately, both organizations performed poorly in applying legal commitments to equity to specific management decisions. This finding corroborates the small but robust empirical literature on equity, which indicates that states struggle to apply broad, equitable principles to specific decisions. Perhaps most interestingly, this presentation will discuss the principal finding of the study, which was that legal commitments to equity provided negotiators with a discursive flexibility to reach compromises and produce management decisions.

About the Speaker: Dr. Angela Abolhassani is a postdoctoral fellow for the Ocean Nexus Center at the University of Washington. She has studied transboundary tuna management from an interdisciplinary perspective for nearly a decade. Her work is primarily concerned with improving the equity outcomes of tuna management for developing coastal states. In 2020, she completed her Ph.D. with the University of Tasmania, which was a joint project between the Faculty of Law and Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. Prior to her Ph.D., she completed an honors thesis at Arizona State University which applied common pool resource theory to management of the South Pacific albacore tuna fishery. Dr. Abolhassani has also worked in the intergovernmental settings she studies, including with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.