Who owns the sea? Investigating the trends and perceptions of enclosure in Scottish seas
Weir, Stephanie Phillippa
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For half a century, the seas have been transforming from a mare nullius, to an area of enclosed and private rights. Despite the growing body of literature addressing these transitions, there has been a lack of engagement with property rights and enclosure in Scotland’s seas. Using a conceptual lens of historical institutionalism, the research explores the drivers, consequences, and perceptions of enclosure in two case studies in Scotland; spatial enclosure via marine spatial planning, and resource access enclosure in fisheries. Defining enclosure as the process of concentrating rights and power, the research foregrounds the issues of power imbalances, distributional conflicts, and a lack of knowledge and transparency. Q-methodology is applied to detail the range of views on enclosure in the participating stakeholders. The findings of the thesis suggest that the introduction of both the MSP regime, and the market-led fisheries management system, are not efficiently allocating resources in a rational manner. Rather, institutional change has been steadily influenced by political thinking and powerful actors, so that rights and resources are being concentrated to fewer hands. The research also suggests that a diverse array of understandings of ownership are present in Scotland’s seas that are not currently foregrounded in policy. Excluding these forms of ownership will lead to further tensions between users. As such, understanding the marine environment as a series of social institutions is necessary for designing a governance regime that is both equitable and sustainable. By understanding the sources of rights, and how they are performed in concrete relations between individuals, regulators can better address potential conflicts, and avoid destructive enclosure. The research therefore recommends further engagement with stakeholders, and acknowledgement of rights through different participatory or financial channels.