Policy Brief: Marine Social Science and Ocean Sustainability

Figure 1 - The coastal margin

Around the world, the marine and coastal environment is occupied, used and relied on by coastal communities, small-scale fishers, and Indigenous peoples.

Background: Marine protected areas, marine spatial planning, fisheries management, climate adaptation and economic development activities are increasing across the world’s oceans. Coastal communities, indigenous peoples, and small-scale fishers also occupy, use and rely on the ocean and coastal environment for livelihoods, for sustenance, and for wellbeing. An understanding of the human dimensions of the peopled seas is required to make informed marine policy and management decisions. A diverse set of social science disciplines, methods, and theories can be applied to rigorously study the human dimensions of ocean and coastal issues and challenges. Insights from the marine social sciences include:

  1. Documenting the social context (eg, uses, benefits, values, rights, knowledge, culture) to inform planning and management;
  2. Characterizing and evaluating the appropriateness and effectiveness of governance processes and management actions;
  3. Assessing the impacts of conservation, management or development activities on coastal economics and human well-being; and,
  4. Identifying the social and institutional factors that influence people’s behaviours, actions or responses to identify effective interventions.

The marine social sciences must be part of the mandate and investments of national and international ocean science, policy and sustainability initiatives. Yet, marine social science often receives limited attention and investments from ocean-focused government agencies, NGOs and funders.

 

Recommendations: Recommended actions include:

  1. Policy-makers, managers and practitioners need to account for the human dimensions in all marine conservation, marine planning, fisheries management and ocean development decisions.
  2. Governments should ensure that ocean-focused laws, policies and planning processes require the consideration of social, cultural, economic and governance considerations.
  3. National and international ocean science and sustainability initiatives, such as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), must include social science in their mandates and investments.
  4. Financial support is needed from ocean-focused government agencies, multi-lateral organizations, NGOs and funders for capacity, programs and infrastructure to enable applied and policy-relevant marine social science research.

 

KEY MESSAGES

The pursuit of sustainable oceans must be informed by insights from the marine social sciences.

Recent years have seen significant growth in conservation, management and development activities in the ocean. Coastal communities, indigenous peoples, and small-scale fishers also occupy and rely on the ocean for livelihoods, for subsistence, and for wellbeing. Thus, an understanding of the human dimensions is required to make evidence-based decisions across marine policy realms. Greater support for marine social science programs and capacity are needed from ocean-focused government agencies, NGOs, and funders.

 

A PDF Version of this Policy Brief is available here: Policy Brief – Marine Social Science and Ocean Sustainability

For more information regarding this topic, see the following paper: N Bennett (2019), Marine Social Science for the Peopled Seas, Coastal Management, 47(2), 244-252. (Link)

 

Contact: Dr. Nathan Bennett (linkis the Chair of the People and the Ocean Specialist Group of the Commission on Ecological, Economic and Social Policy of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (link) and the Principal Investigator of The Peopled Seas Initiative.

New Paper – Navigating a just and inclusive path towards sustainable oceans

I just published a new paper in Marine Policy titled “Navigating a just and inclusive path towards sustainable oceans” (link to paper). This agenda setting paper argues that the ocean science, practitioner, governance and funding communities need to pay greater attention to justice and inclusion across key ocean policy realms including marine conservation, fisheries management, marine spatial planning, the blue economy, climate adaptation and global ocean governance.

Reference: N.J. Bennett, Navigating a just and inclusive path towards sustainable oceans, Marine Policy. (2018). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2018.06.001

Abstract: The ocean is the next frontier for many conservation and development activities. Growth in marine protected areas, fisheries management, the blue economy, and marine spatial planning initiatives are occurring both within and beyond national jurisdictions. This mounting activity has coincided with increasing concerns about sustainability and international attention to ocean governance. Yet, despite growing concerns about exclusionary decision-making processes and social injustices, there remains inadequate attention to issues of social justice and inclusion in ocean science, management, governance and funding. In a rapidly changing and progressively busier ocean, we need to learn from past mistakes and identify ways to navigate a just and inclusive path towards sustainability. Proactive attention to inclusive decision-making and social justice is needed across key ocean policy realms including marine conservation, fisheries management, marine spatial planning, the blue economy, climate adaptation and global ocean governance for both ethical and instrumental reasons. This discussion paper aims to stimulate greater engagement with these critical topics. It is a call to action for ocean-focused researchers, policy-makers, managers, practitioners, and funders.

Maintaining coastal and Indigenous community access to marine resources and the ocean in Canada

Access to marine resources and the ocean is central to coastal community well-being - Bennett et al, Marine Policy, 2017A group representing academics, Indigenous peoples, fishers, and NGOs recently published a review and policy perspective paper in Marine Policy urging that access for coastal and Indigenous communities should be a priority consideration in all policies and decision-making processes related to fisheries and the ocean in Canada. The ability to use and benefit from marine resources (including fisheries) and areas of the ocean or coast is central to the sustainability of coastal communities. In Canada, however, access to marine resources and spaces is a significant and growing issue for many coastal and Indigenous communities due to an increasingly busy ocean: ocean-related development, competition over fisheries and marine resources, and marine planning and conservation activities that confine activities to certain areas. Loss of access has implications for the well-being, including economic, social, cultural, health, and political considerations, and persistence of coastal and Indigenous communities across the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic coasts of Canada. The vibrancy and continuity of these communities is important to Canadian society for many reasons, including identity, autonomy, sovereignty, culture, healthy rural-urban dynamics, and environmental sustainability. Greater attention is needed to the various factors that support or undermine the ability of coastal and Indigenous communities to access and benefit from the ocean and how to reverse the current trend to ensure that coastal and Indigenous communities thrive in the future.

Factors that can support or undermine access to marine resources and the ocean - Bennett et al, Marine Policy 2017

KEY MESSAGES

Access to marine resources and the ocean is important for the well-being of coastal populations. In Canada, the ability of many coastal and Indigenous communities to access and benefit from the ocean is a growing issue. Access for coastal and Indigenous communities should be a priority consideration in all policies and decision-making processes related to fisheries and the ocean in Canada. Taking action now could reverse the current trend and ensure that coastal and Indigenous communities thrive in the future.

Recommended actions include:

  1. Ensuring access is proactively and transparently considered in all fisheries and ocean-related decisions.
  2. Supporting policy-relevant research on access issues to fill knowledge gaps and enable effective policy and management responses.
  3. Making data publicly available and accessible and including communities in decision-making processes that grant or restrict access to adjacent marine resources and spaces.
  4. Ensuring updated laws, policies and planning processes explicitly incorporate access considerations.
  5. Identifying and taking priority actions now to maintain and increase access, when appropriate and sustainable, for coastal and Indigenous communities.

 

**For more information, refer to the following publication and policy brief:

Bennett NJ et al. 2018. Coastal and Indigenous community access to marine resources and the ocean: A policy imperative for Canada. Marine Policy 87:186–193. Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X17306413 

Policy Brief: Maintaining coastal and Indigenous community access to marine resources and the ocean in Canada

This work was supported by the OceanCanada Partnership through a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. For more information, please email myself (nathan.bennett@ubc.ca) or Megan Bailey (megan.bailey@dal.ca).

What causes overfishing?: Moving beyond the Malthusian narrative to create equitable and effective solutions

In a paper recently published in Fish & Fisheries, we question whether the “Malthusian overpopulation narrative” alone is an adequate explanation for overfishing and for designing responses. Our review, led by Dr Elena Finkbeiner of the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University, suggests that there is a need to better engage with the factors that mediate the relationship between population and overfishing. These mediating drivers include technology and innovation, demand and distribution, marginalization and equity, and governance and management. Accurate diagnosis of the causes of the overfishing will lead to the design of more effective and more equitable management responses.

Reference: Finkbeiner, E., N. Bennett, T. Frawley, C. Brooks, J. Mason, Ng, C., Ourens, R., Seto, K., Swanson, S., Urteaga, J., Wingfield, D. & Crowder, L.B. (2017). Reconstructing overfishing: Moving beyond Malthus for equitable and effective solutions. Fish & Fisheries. Online. DOI: 10.1111/faf.12245 (Link)

Examples of drivers mediating the relationship between population growth and fishing effort

Examples of drivers mediating the relationship between population growth and fishing effort. (Source: Finkbeiner et al (2017). Reconstructing overfishing: Moving beyond Malthus for effective and effective solutions, Fish & Fisheries, DOI: 10.1111/faf.12245)

Abstract: Inaccurate or incomplete diagnosis of the root causes of overfishing can lead to misguided and ineffective fisheries policies and programmes. The “Malthusian overfishing narrative” suggests that overfishing is driven by too many fishers chasing too few fish and that fishing effort grows proportionately to human population growth, requiring policy interventions that reduce fisher access, the number of fishers, or the human population. By neglecting other drivers of overfishing that may be more directly related to fishing pressure and provide more tangible policy levers for achieving fisheries sustainability, Malthusian overfishing relegates blame to regions of the world with high population growth rates, while consumers, corporations and political systems responsible for these other mediating drivers remain unexamined. While social–ecological systems literature has provided alternatives to the Malthusian paradigm, its focus on institutions and organized social units often fails to address fundamental issues of power and politics that have inhibited the design and implementation of effective fisheries policy. Here, we apply a political ecology lens to unpack Malthusian overfishing and, relying upon insights derived from the social sciences, reconstruct the narrative incorporating four exemplar mediating drivers: technology and innovation, resource demand and distribution, marginalization and equity, and governance and management. We argue that a more nuanced understanding of such factors will lead to effective and equitable fisheries policies and programmes, by identifying a suite of policy levers designed to address the root causes of overfishing in diverse contexts.

Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management

A paper titled “Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management” co-authored by Sarah Klain, Rachelle Beveridge and myself was just published in Ecology & Society. The article asks: a) whether natural resource management can be ecologically sustainable but unjust at the same time, and b) if distribution of harvesting rights and socio-economic benefits and inclusion in management is unfair, how might access to resources and governance institutions be re-oriented. We explore these questions through a case study of indigenous peoples’ involvement in commercial sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada using Elinor Ostrom’s social-ecological systems framework and common pool resource design principles.

Central Coast Fishing Boat

Klain, S., Beveridge, R, Bennett, N.J. (2014). Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management. Ecology & Society 19(4), 52.

ABSTRACT: Under appropriate conditions, community-based fisheries management can support sound resource stewardship, with positive social and environmental outcomes. Evaluating indigenous peoples’ involvement in commercial sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada, we found that the current social-ecological system configuration is relatively ecologically sustainable according to stock assessments. However, the current system also results in perceived inequities in decision-making processes, harvesting allocations, and socioeconomic benefits. As a result, local coastal resource managers envision a transformation of sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries governance and management institutions. We assessed the potential robustness of the proposed institutions using Elinor Ostrom’s common-pool resource design principles. Grounded in the region’s legal, political, and historical context, our analysis suggests that greater local involvement in these invertebrate fisheries and their management could provide more benefits to local communities than the status quo while maintaining an ecologically sustainable resource. Our research highlights the importance of explicitly addressing historical context and equity considerations in social-ecological system analyses and when renegotiating the institutions governing common-pool resources.

The article can also be downloaded from this page.