Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas / New Ocean Paradigm on Its Biogeochemistry, Ecosystem and Sustainable Use (NEOPS)


Hegemony and shifts in dominance shaping transnational fisheries cooperation

Robert Blasiak, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo

Among the most immediately tangible benefits derived from the oceans are the vast quantities of fish harvested by nations around the world, amounting to over 90 million tons of production annually, and providing nearly 20% of the animal protein consumed by the world’s population (FAO 2014a). Ocean governance in regard to the sustainable management of marine ecosystem services has developed in recent years, and remains most developed for tangible provisioning services, while management mechanisms encompassing less tangible supporting, regulating and cultural services are still developing (Blasiak et al. 2014).

While the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and subsequent Fish Stocks Agreement provide a framework for sustainable management of shared, straddling and highly-migratory fisheries, these fisheries remain characterized by a range of strategic behaviors by participating fishing nations, leading to considerable effort by researchers to apply game theory to understand such interactions (Hannesson 2011). Building on this largely theoretical literature, we have inductively surveyed the world’s 25 largest marine capture fisheries, which have collectively constituted some 40-50% of total reported catch over the past 60 years (FAO 2014b). In particular, this analysis provides insight into the existence of the de facto veto power exercised by hegemons and suggested by Arnason et al. (2000).

Our analysis points to strong evidence for this de facto veto power, and a stronger tendency towards cooperation as fisheries become progressively less hegemonic (Blasiak et al. 2015). These findings suggest that hegemonic systems are uniquely unlikely to be cooperatively managed, although shifts towards greater sharing of dominance increase the likelihood of cooperative management (Table 1), as highlighted in the shift of Pacific Saury from a hegemonic system to one characterized by shared dominance over the past decade (Figure 1). In this case, a shift in dominance seems to have paved the way to more fruitful cooperative efforts under the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC). This analysis has clear policy significance, as it signals that changes in dominance over fisheries (e.g. due to shifts in stock abundance or distribution) can create involuntary barriers or opportunities for cooperative management.

Although this research is suggestive of how cooperative dynamics are shaped by the management of a tangible provisioning service (fish), the oceans clearly provide a broad range of all ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural. The development of new paradigms of sustainable ocean management must encompass this full range of services in order to ensure the long-term functionality of ocean ecosystems and the corresponding well-being of a human population crucially dependent upon the benefits these ecosystems provide (Blasiak et al. 2014).

Table 1: Category-based breakdown of 25 largest fisheries (Blasiak et al. 2015)
Type of system 2012 catch in tons (percentage of study sample) Number of fisheries within this category Average number of players Existence of formal bilateral / multilateral international cooperative agreement
Hegemonic single-player dominance 8,941,906
7 7.4 0 / 7
Coupled two-player dominance 4,737,878
3 15 2 / 3
Shared small group dominance 9,435,273
11 14.8 8 / 11
No dominance 6,179,403
4 78 4 / 4

Figure 1: Example of shifts in dominance from hegemony to small-group (reported Pacific Saury catch) (Blasiak et al. 2015).


Arnason, R., Magnusson, G. and Agnarsson, S. (2000). The Norwegian Spring-Spawning Herring Fishery: A Stylized Game Model. Marine Resource Economics. 15(4):293-319.

Blasiak, R. (2014) Hegemons: Leaders or barriers to sustainable fisheries management. United Nations University. Available online at:

Blasiak, R., Yagi, N. and Kurokura, H. (2015) Impacts of hegemony and shifts in dominance on marine capture fisheries. Marine Policy 52: 52-58.

Blasiak, R., Anderson, J.L., Bridgewater, P., Furuya, K., Halpern, B.S., Kurokura, H., Morishita, J., Yagi, N. and Minohara, A. (2014) Paradigms of sustainable ocean management. Marine Policy 48: 206-211.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) (2014a) The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture: Opportunities and challenges. Rome, 2014.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (2014b). FishStatJ – Software for Fishery Statistical Time Series. Global Dataset 1950-2012. Accessed online on 9 April 2014 at

Hannesson, R. (2011) Game Theory and Fisheries. Annual Review of Resource Economics 2011; 3:181-202.

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