In the Gulf of Mexico, inequality among fishers on the increase

As the oil industry expands its operations into new regions in Mexico, increased harm is being caused to the marine environment, complicating the coastal population’s opportunities for making a living, as indicated by a doctoral dissertation currently being examined at the University of Helsinki.

The dissertation by Liina-Maija Quist, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki, illustrates how forms of authoritarian control and new methods of shifting social responsibility for the effects of oil industry activities are merging in Mexico.

 “New mechanisms of resource governance create inequality among fishers by dividing them into those with resources to journey past expanding oil drilling regions and those who are forced to compete for a haul with an increasing number of other fishers,” says Quist.

In southeast Mexico, fishing has decreased markedly in the last ten years.

In the region, small-scale fishing has an important role in controlling food security and employment.

Fisher leaders as mediators

According to the dissertation, the conflict concerning access to the sea is causing divisions in the political movement of fishers. In these new circumstances, the leaders of fishers act as mediators between fishers and the oil companies.

”These leaders transform fishers’ demands for access to the aquatic environment and the right to preserve their way of life into narratives of livelihood, more common and acceptable among Mexicans and the Mexican media. In spite of the recent privatisation of the industry, oil has historical significance as ‘patrimony’,” explains Quist.

According to the study, these reformulated demands do not represent the environmental knowledge and fisher identity, based on seafaring, of those fishing in oil extraction areas.

Quist’s dissertation is founded on a six-month period of ethnographic fieldwork carried out in 2011–2012 and 2017 in Mexico, as well as media analysis.

Conflicts concerning marine regions are increasing around the globe, as the utilisation of marine resources is becoming more common. Liina-Maija Quist’s dissertation in development studies examines the conflict concerning access to the Gulf of Mexico between small-scale fishers and oil companies in the oil-producing region of the state of Tabasco, in southeast Mexico.

The environmental conflict of the Gulf revolves around the livelihood and way of life of thousands of fishers, as well as the preservation of environmental knowledge under circumstances where oil extraction is being radically intensified in the name of national economic growth and progress.



MSocSc Liina-Maija Quist defended her doctoral dissertation entitled “Contested Sea - The Politics of Space, Seafaring and Extraction among Fishers and the Oil Industry in Mexico” in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, on 10 February 2018.

Associate Professor Kevin St. Martin from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, served as the opponent, while Professor Barry Gills served as the custos.

The doctoral dissertation is available on the E-thesis service.


Contact information for the doctoral candidate:
Liina-Maija Quist
Tel. +358 50 536 0630