Survey-based knowledge of marine resources has expanded greatly thanks to remote sensing and geo-locational technologies. State-sponsored and organized through state agencies, such knowledge resides in archives, dedicated databases, and online data portals where it serves to territorialize and legitimate claims to state sovereignty. Furthermore, with the power to discern and bound (e.g. stocks of commercial fish species) comes also the capacity to allocate, appropriate, and commodify. Indeed, one might read the recent attempt to coordinate such databases via a comprehensive and authoritative planning apparatus (i.e. “Marine Spatial Planning”) as a next step in the rational exploitation of marine resources. Yet the very technologies which have made this territorialization and commodification of resources possible, have also opened up other possibilities for those who, beyond the state, might leverage oceans data. For example, data portals also serve to distribute data beyond state agencies. While initiated to enhance management outcomes, they also perform, through the coordination and assemblage of disparate oceans databases, a digital ocean accessible and manipulable by increasing numbers of “stakeholders.” Leveraging such data creates new capacities and modes of territorialization decoupled from traditional forms of mapping and sovereignty. This paper explicates the ocean that is now emerging via unprecedented efforts at database coordination. It traces where and how particular ontological entities are congealing. And it suggests ways researchers might intervene on behalf of community and commons.
Kevin St. Martin is a Professor of Geography at Rutgers University. He is a human geographer whose work is at the intersection of economic geography, political ecology, and critical cartography. His work includes critical analyses of economic and resource management discourse as well as participatory projects that work to rethink economy and foster economic and environmental wellbeing. Dr. St. Martin’s projects have in common the regulation and transformation of the marine environment. In particular, he uses the paradigmatic case of fisheries in the U.S. Northeast to better understand the power of discourse, data, and devices to shape economic and environmental outcomes.
Jennifer Silver is an Associate Professor in Geography, Environment and Geomatics at the University of Guelph. She is a political ecologist with interest in oceans, fisheries and global environmental governance. Currently, funded projects address access, (in)equity and financialization in Canadian Pacific fisheries and explore the promotion/adoption of digital and surveillance technologies by prominent actors within the international ocean community.
My Ph.D in environmental anthropology from Columbia University led to a career on the faculty of Rutgers University, New Jersey. My research, mainly in Canada, the US, and Mexico, focuses on coastal communities and nearshore fisheries. A guiding theme is understanding intersections of property, environment and community as they play out in the use and management of common pool resources in changing environments.