ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Maximum Sustainable Yield

A Myth and Its Manifold Effects

Some scientific concepts are accepted and sustained by policymakers not because they can accurately explain or predict the state of natural resources, but because they can be used to legitimise certain forms of resource control. Taking the concept of maximum sustainable yield as an example, how it was originally developed in the context of scientific forestry, but entered marine fisheries management and became a part of the “accepted wisdom,” has been analysed. The consequences this has had, for marine fisheries globally and also in India, and the critiques it has spurred have been explained. The msy’s persistence is unpacked to suggest that debates on resource management need to be attentive to context, in order to understand how science may get enmeshed in efforts to enclose and appropriate resources.

Science is often believed to be an unbiased and accurate portrayer of reality and, hence, it is not unusual for critical political decisions to invoke scientific knowledge in order to bolster their legitimacy. This is particularly true of complex domains such as environment and development because they affect the natural and social worlds. On the other hand, claims of knowing nature, speaking on its behalf, and advocating certain trajectories of management have repeatedly been shown to be inseparable from social struggles for power and access to resources, that is, ecological knowledge is frequently enmeshed in politics (Goldman et al 2011). In this article, we review one aspect of this politics of knowledge: How a seemingly objective, technical concept, such as “maximum sustainable (or sustained) yield” or MSY, became an essential part of the state’s attempt to consolidate territorial control over land- and sea-based resources in the name of sustainable development; or, in other words, how science was used by the state to meet geopolitical ends.

To illustrate our argument, we revisit two well-documented topics: one is the growth of forestry in India and the United States (US), and the other is the growth of marine fisheries in these two countries. We sketch the connections between the two, to show how a concept that dominated one discipline (scientific forestry) can centuries later play an equally pivotal role in shaping the other because it continues to be politically useful rather than scientifically appropriate. We follow this with an overview of how the MSY concept has shaped the trajectory of marine fisheries in India and discuss its implications for future efforts.

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Updated On : 15th Oct, 2018
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