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


Balloon effects in global fisheries

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

One of the fundamental challenges to sustainable management of natural resources is that they have such a broad spatial distribution – across international boundaries, failed states, developed states, etc. Within a globalized and unregulated free market, exploitation of natural resources can be expected to gravitate towards areas characterized by low labor costs, ease of resource extraction, and limited regulation or oversight (Gray 1998).

Within this context, the management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks poses a particularly difficult management challenge, since the natural resource in this case is not stationary; considerable gaps exist in the understanding of the ecology of fish stocks; and these stocks range across areas characterized by various levels of regulatory control (Blasiak et al. 2015). Likewise, an uneven regulatory framework can cause exploitation of a certain fisheries product or even a specific stock to simply shift from areas characterized by strong governance to those of weaker governance (Osterblom 2010). In some cases, this shifting of focus lead to paradigms of sequential exploitation (or serial depletion) by “roving bandits” that were swifter to adapt and adjust than corresponding regulatory frameworks that could ensure long-term sustainable management (Berkes et al 2006). As suggested by Hardin’s model of the “tragedy of the commons”, over the short-term these fishers would have little incentive to depart from a self-interested path of depletion (Hardin 1968).

While the model of sequential exploitation provides a useful tool for understanding the spatial expansion of fisheries in a world with new frontiers, we suggest that in a saturated world without new frontiers, a paradigm of destabilizing balloon effects is increasingly evident (Blasiak 2015). This terminology of “balloon effects” has been used for years in other disciplines (e.g. studies on drug trafficking and carbon leakage) to describe the spatial displacement of illicit activities along paths of limited statehood. The “squeezing” of a balloon evokes the image of regulations or enforcement causing activities to simply shift from one area to another (Brombacher and Maihold, 2009). Within the context of straddling and highly migratory fisheries, in particular, the uneven international governance framework implies that such balloon effects can arise for both licit and illicit fishing activities.

Several examples of recent balloon effects in the marine capture fisheries are introduced in Blasiak (2015) and a detailed typology of balloon effects in the marine fisheries is forthcoming.


Berkes, F., Hughes, T.P., Steneck, R.S., Wilson, J.A., Bellwood, D.R., Crona, B. et al. (2006) Globalization, roving bandits and marine resources. Science 311, 1557-1558.

Blasiak, R. (2015) Balloon effects reshaping global fisheries. Mar. Policy 57, 18-20.

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

Brombacher, D. & Maihold, G. (2009) Cocaine trafficking to Europe: Options of supply Control. (Research Paper RP10). Berlin, Germany: German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).

Gray, J. (1998) False dawn: The delusions of global capitalism. Grant Books, London.

Hardin, G. (1968) The tragedy of the commons. Science 162(3859): 1243-1248.

Österblom, H., Sumaila, U. R., Bodin, Ö., Sundberg, J. H. & Press, A. J. (2010) Adapting to regional enforcement: Fishing down the governance index. PLoS ONE 5:e12832.

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