Lionfish as a Metaphor for Governance in an Era of Climate Change

29 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2015

See all articles by Rebecca M. Bratspies

Rebecca M. Bratspies

City University of New York - School of Law

Date Written: 2014


Lionfish are a metaphor for the broader challenges of “solving global problems” not only because they are beautiful (which they are), and not only because of the serious socio-ecological problems they create, but because they also come wrapped in a set of globally rooted drivers that are inherent to most, if not all, of the global problems we might aspire to “solve.”

The lionfish problem exists as an unintended consequence of a series of choices that are themselves rooted in a globalized economy — in this case, the exotic fish trade. These fish are emblematic of the consequences that flow from inadequate international, national, and subnational regulation of a global trade regime that has commodified living organisms. They demonstrate, in a very physical sense, how a laissez-faire regulatory regime, which defines priorities based on individual consumer preferences and behavioral choices, systematically disregards systemic risks, including risks to the health of our ecosystem. Finally, lionfish force us to confront the vulnerabilities inherent in relying on individual preferences to make decisions by juxtaposing individual choices with their cumulative impacts, and situating those impacts in the context of fundamental bio-geophysical forces over which humans do not exert control.

Keywords: lionfish, sustainable, fisheries, invasive, governance, climate change, coral, management, Belize

JEL Classification: H11, H41, Q17, Q22, K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Bratspies, Rebecca M., Lionfish as a Metaphor for Governance in an Era of Climate Change (2014). New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 58, No. 4, 2013/2014. Available at SSRN:

Rebecca M. Bratspies (Contact Author)

City University of New York - School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

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