Transnational corporations as 'keystone actors' in marine ecosystems

PLoS One. 2015 May 27;10(5):e0127533. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0127533. eCollection 2015.


Keystone species have a disproportionate influence on the structure and function of ecosystems. Here we analyze whether a keystone-like pattern can be observed in the relationship between transnational corporations and marine ecosystems globally. We show how thirteen corporations control 11-16% of the global marine catch (9-13 million tons) and 19-40% of the largest and most valuable stocks, including species that play important roles in their respective ecosystem. They dominate all segments of seafood production, operate through an extensive global network of subsidiaries and are profoundly involved in fisheries and aquaculture decision-making. Based on our findings, we define these companies as keystone actors of the Anthropocene. The phenomenon of keystone actors represents an increasingly important feature of the human-dominated world. Sustainable leadership by keystone actors could result in cascading effects throughout the entire seafood industry and enable a critical transition towards improved management of marine living resources and ecosystems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquaculture
  • Ecological and Environmental Phenomena
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fisheries
  • Industry
  • Internationality*
  • Oceans and Seas*
  • Policy
  • Professional Corporations*

Grant support

Baltic Ecosystem Adaptive Management (BEAM) is a strategic research initiative funded by the Swedish Government: (HÖ), the Nippon Foundation: (HÖ, CF, AM), the Family Erling Persson Foundation: (CF, BC, JBJ), the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation: (CF, MT, BC), Mistra (CF, JR, HÖ), Ivar Bendixsons fond (HÖ). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.