Alison Rieser


Ocean Policy Lab at University of Hawai’i

Research Program

I oversee a program of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research on the governance of the marine environment. With students in the Graduate Ocean Policy Program and in the Geography graduate program, my studies focus on legal analysis and proposals for reform; others are located at the intersection of natural and social sciences. My students therefore often work with faculty members trained in economics, psychology, marine biology, as well as law and human geography. The goal of the ocean policy lab is to advance the understanding of how humankind studies, uses, and governs its impacts on the oceans. Specific research projects and recent student publications are described below.

Human Ecology of Marine Wildlife Interactions

In 1972 the U.S. Congress set out to change the terms of humankind’s relationship with whales, dolphins, seals, sea otters, sea lions, manatees, and other species of marine mammals. By prohibiting their take in U.S. waters, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) embodied a moral commitment to maintain marine wildlife at population levels consistent with healthy, functioning marine ecosystems. The 1973 Endangered Species Act is a commitment to recover imperiled species to levels at which their survival in the wild is no longer threatened with extinction. Achieving these commitments has been a decades-long challenge for the agencies responsible for the Acts' implementation and for commercial and recreational users of U.S. coastal waters.

My Ph.D. student Jennifer Bernstein has a study underway to trace the history and meaning of the legal concept of "harassment" of marine life in the context of coastal and marine tourism and the intersection of theories of individual psychology and human geography. We are investigating the effect of marine ecotourism experiences on the environmental values, attitudes, and behaviors of the visitor population in Hawaii and elsewhere. Our questions include whether a non-harassing ecotourism experience can lead to pro-environmental behaviors in other consumption decisions. Masters student Krista Jaspers is studying the “DolphinSmart” program that certifies spinner dolphin tour operators as non-harassing. She is looking at how participation in this voluntary alternative to regulation affects the attitudes and practice of commercial tour operators. Ocean policy and law student Christina Aiu is studying the proposed government decision to take the Hawaiian green sea turtle off the endangered species list including the role of science and public definitions of species endangerment in public policy.

Ethics, Social Values and the "Best Available Science" in Marine Conservation

Marine scientists are actively involved in measuring the changes to the oceans and coasts caused by resource extraction, and by global warming and ocean acidification. Industries that use the resources of the oceans and coasts often challenge this new knowledge. My lab studies how government agencies respond to these challenges under their legal mandates to use the "best available scientific information." Masters student Faith Knighton is looking at the intersection of science and policy in the proposed listing of 66 species of hard corals as threatened with extinction, especially how scientists perceive their role in the science-policy interface and its effect upon their research and careers.

The challenge of communicating and applying scientific knowledge about our impacts on the oceans is the topic of my blog "Dispatches from the Science/Policy Interface."

Fisheries Governance

"Sea-grabbing" is a term used to describe the process by which the marine jurisdiction and tenure of developing countries is overridden by multinational fishing fleets through institutional practices of quota-setting and access agreements. My studies consider the influence of emerging norms of food security and human rights on fisheries decisionmaking by international bodies. I am also looking at institutional issues of transparency and corruption in the transmission and application of marine science to the governance of the oceans. I have a long-standing interest in the role of tradable quotas and other exclusive rights-based policy instruments in the governance of natural resources. Currently I am investigating the impact that fishing quotas may have on the incentives of fishing companies to engage in marine stewardship. I am also studying the transition from single-species to ecosystem-based fisheries management in fisheries governance. These are of particular interest in the context of marine spatial planning and third-party certification of the seafood industry.

Recent Student Publications

Current Students

  • Christina Aiu
    Christina Aiu (Law/GOPC)
  • Laura Chen Allen
    Laura Chen Allen (Georgraphy/GOPC)
  • Michele Barnes-Mauthe
    Michele Barnes-Mauthe
  • Jennifer Bernstein
    Jennifer Bernstein (Geography)
  • Mele Coleman
    Mele Coleman (Law/GOPC)
  • Adair Fincher
    Adair Fincher (Law/GOPC)
  • Louise Giuseffi
    Louise Giuseffi (NOAA/GOPC)
  • Krista Jaspers
    Krista Jaspers (Geography)
  • Rachel Keylon
    Rachel Keylon (Biol/GOPC)
  • Faith O. Knighton
    Faith O. Knighton (Geography)
  • Aydee Zielke
    Aydee Zielke (NOAA/GOPC)

Former Students

  • James I. Hong (PubAdm/GOPC)
  • Andrew N. Porter (Law/GOPC)
  • Lora L. Nordtvedt Reeve (Law/Zool/GOPC)
  • Charles R. Taylor (Law/GOPC)
  • Danica Zupic (NREM/GOPC)
  • Dan Reineman (OCN/GOPC)
  • Kara A. Miller (NREM/GOPC)