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‘The people have spoken’: how cultural narratives politically trumped the best available science (BAS) in managing the Port Phillip Bay fishery in Australia

journal contribution
posted on 2019-04-01, 00:00 authored by Tanya KingTanya King, Dayne O'Meara
This paper unpacks the competing narratives used by stakeholders involved in a conflict over the use of Port Phillip Bay, in the Australian state of Victoria. The ‘best available science’ (BAS) indicated that the Bay’s commercial net fishery was ‘sustainable’. And yet, both the major political parties went to a tightly contested state election with the promise to close the fishery in favour of a ‘recreational fishing haven’. We describe how a group of local and non-local recreational fishers mobilised political support by undermining the legitimacy of the scientific information that supported the activities of the professional fishers. We introduce two terms to characterise the narratives used by the recreational fishers. The first—‘science as suspect’—challenged the normative power of BAS, taking an anti-intellectual approach to the determination of ‘fact’ and stressing, instead, the authority of anecdotal data. The second narrative—‘commerce as corrupting’—rationalised the first by challenging the credibility of the assertions of professional fishers, scientists and academics on the basis that they all have a commercial stake in what they say. The power of these narratives were bolstered by their commonplace use within broader Australian society. Rather than being particular to those who oppose commercial fishers, these same parables have general cultural salience; they have even been used previously by other Australian fishers in response to perceived threats to their resource access. We argue that the familiarity of the narratives mobilised in the Port Phillip Bay debate lent them credibility with the mainstream media and with politicians who were fighting an arduous election.



Maritime studies

Article number



1 - 13




London, Eng.







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2018, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature