In fisheries management—as in environmental governance more generally—regulatory arrangements that are thought to be helpful in some contexts frequently become panaceas or, in other words, simple formulaic policy prescriptions believed to solve a given problem in a wide range of contexts, regardless of their actual consequences. When this happens, management is likely to fail, and negative side effects are common. We focus on the case of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) to explore the panacea mindset, a set of factors that promote the spread and persistence of panaceas. These include conceptual narratives that make easy answers like panaceas seem plausible, power disconnects that create vested interests in panaceas, and heuristics and biases that prevent people from accurately assessing panaceas. Analysts have suggested many approaches to avoiding panaceas, but most fail to conquer the underlying panacea mindset. Here, we suggest the co-development of an institutional diagnostics toolkit to distill the vast amount of information on fisheries governance into an easily accessible, open, on-line database of checklists, case studies, and related resources. Toolkits like this could be used in many governance settings to challenge users’ understandings of a policy’s impacts and help them develop solutions better tailored to their particular context. They would not replace the more comprehensive approaches found in the literature but would rather be an intermediate step away from the problem of panaceas.
Significance Statement: Using individual transferable quotas as an example, we investigate the panacea mindset, which includes conceptual narratives that make easy answers like panaceas seem plausible, power disconnects that create vested interests in panaceas, and heuristics and biases that prevent people from accurately assessing panaceas. We then describe a potential method for reducing the spread and persistence of panaceas, the institutional diagnostics toolkit, a simple, intuitive, and transparent tool that challenges users’ existing understandings of a policy’s impacts and helps them develop solutions better tailored to their particular context. Still imperfect, the toolkit could at least improve fit in cases where the panacea mindset is prevalent.
Dr. Webster’s main research interest is in understanding feedbacks within global scale social-ecological systems (SESs). She is author of two books. The second, Beyond the Tragedy in Global Fisheries (in press), explains the evolution of global fisheries governance through a responsive governance lens, showing how fisheries all over the world cycle through periods of effective and ineffective governance in what she calls the management treadmill. Her first book, Adaptive Governance: The Dynamics of Atlantic Tuna Management (2009 MIT Press) posited and tested her vulnerability response framework. It won the International Studies Association’s Harold and Margaret Sprout Award in 2010. She is currently exploring new methods for exploring SESs as the lead PI on a multi-institutional project called Fishscape: Modeling the Complex Dynamics of the Fishery for Tropical Tunas in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which is funded through NSF’s Coupled Natural and Human Systems program, and an internally funded project that uses agent based modeling to better understand the relationship between Consumer Choice and Sustainability. Dr. Webster teaches courses related to global environmental governance, green business, marine policy, and environmental economics. She earned her PhD from the University of Southern California’s Political Economy and Public Policy program in 2005.