To better understand how regimes select norms and how sustainability concepts are used and change, we conduct a quantitative content analysis of important documents specifically related to a critical Earth system, the “World Ocean.” Using the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture reports from 1995 to 2016, we find that economic norms have always been dominant, and the use of sustainability concepts has become increasingly growth oriented. Discourses of restraint, relevant to principles of sustainability, are virtually absent. Growth is the central driving concern for the World Ocean Regime, a noncodified, economistic regime that governs the oceans. We conclude that the norms of sustainability have been selected for fitness with the neoliberal political–economic order and a totalizing ideology of growth, and that sustainability concepts are used as a mask to legitimize extractivist goals that are actually not sustainable.

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