The South China Sea Dispute and “Fisheries Crime” in historical and contemporary perspective
Open lecture with Edyta Roszko, Senior Researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway
Oceans have always been arenas of crime, poaching, drugs and human trafficking. When such violations occur on fishing boats, they fall under the rubric of “fisheries crime”. Political scientists and economists have tended to assume that these criminal fishers simply abandon their legal occupation and take up illegal practices, labelled “transnational organized fisheries crime” by the United Nations. On the other hand, some scholars have also argued that subsidized and militarized fishers in the South China Sea are simply acting as instruments of their states’ geopolitical agendas, responding to regulations, non-enforcement of regulations and incentives. Such present-centric approaches both obscure the modalities of fishers’ embodied skills and knowledge and their motivations, and downplay the inter-ethnic networks that connected different fishers beyond state territories and localized fishing grounds in past and present. Charting the spike in maritime trespass in (and out of) the South China Sea, this lecture combines ethnography and historiography to show how fishers move in and out of legal and illegal, state and non-state categories of fisher, poacher, trader, smuggler, and militia. It discusses how fishers’ practices reflect wider interconnections between modern, state-supported, and technology-driven fisheries with older pre-nation-state patterns of mobility and knowledge accumulated through generations, producing new forms of versatility that operate under the states’ radars.
Edyta Roszko is a Senior Researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway and a Fellow of the Young Academy of Europe. Edyta’s research takes a broader anthropological perspective on blue commons, maritime disputes, fisheries and militia in relation to and beyond territorially bounded states and security interests. Her newly awarded European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant project Transoceanic Fishers: Multiple Mobilities in and out of the South China Sea (TransOcean) at Chr. Michelsen Institute expands her geographic field beyond Vietnam and China to include other global regions in Oceania and West and East Africa. She is the author of Fishers, Monks and Cadres: Navigating State, Religion and the South China Sea in Central Vietnam co-published by NIAS and the University of Hawai’i Press.
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