Research Interests

Using the tools of ethnography and other case-based methods, McCay studies interactions between fishing-based societies and marine ecosystems. The fisheries and fishing communities she studies are primarily in the northern temperate waters of the North Atlantic Ocean (along the U.S. northeast coast and the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada) but also the southern extension of the California Current, the coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico. Her early work in Newfoundland led to her leadership in developing a major critique and revision of the conceptual framework known as the "tragedy of the commons," calling for greater attention to conditions that affect the capacity of people dependent on common pool resources to be engaged in practices and institutions that help ensure sustainable use of natural resources. Her work on the "comedy of the commons" has also illuminated the importance of property rights, history, and scale to the ways that fishing peoples, including fishery managers, respond to signals of change in the natural environment and, more generally, to the workings of coupled natural and human systems.

Membership Type


Election Year


Primary Section

Section 64: Human Environmental Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 51: Anthropology