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MSEAS 2016 Jake Rice: Fisheries governance in an SES system - All things for all people or all things for all creatures?

Including the human dimension in Integrated Ecosystem Assessments is the aim of MSEAS 2016 which takes place this week, 30 May–3 June in Brest, France.
Published: 30 May 2016
​​​​​​​​This afternoon​, Jake Rice​ spoke to the participants of MSEAS 2016 on fisheries governance in a socio-ecological system, asking if it is all things for all people or all things for all creatures? Rice is Chief Scientist Emeritus with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (and he also points out, Chief Scientist Emeritus with ICES, as when he chaired the Consultative Committee in the years before SCICOM, the position brought with it the title Chief Scientist). Over his career, he has worked on many aspects of ecosystem approaches and governance of fisheries and marine biodiversity, and the science – policy interface in marine issues, with over 250 scientific and technical publications. 

Fisheries develop institutions and processes to provide the protocols and rules by which three things are enabled

  1. information needed for decision-making is available in ways that are usable to the participants in governance
  2. sectors of society considered to have a right to participate in decision-making  are able to access, share, and exchange views on the relevant information
  3. decisions actually get made and implemented 

These institutions and processes have to deal with four classes of questions – about the harvested stocks, about the ecosystem in which the harvesting occurs, about the rights and responsibilities to participate in the fishery, and about how the fisheries fit into economies and communities from local to global.  These questions have compounded and evolved in the past century, and the institutions and processes have had to evolve as well. Speaking at MSEAS, Rice outlined the nature of the evolution of the questions and the evolutionary responses of the institutions and processes. 

For the decisions that guide fisheries and fishers, he separated the institutions and processes providing the information needed for informed decision-making, from those that actually make the decisions.  All the decisions have always been made, but retrospectively an increasing proportion of the decisions were not consciously made, and hence not addressed in a structured way.  This is important, because it is necessary to realize the decisions are being made before governance can admit they are being made, and it is necessary to admit they are being made before governance can seek the information needed to make them wisely and the processes to make them fairly. 

The evolution of questions related to fisheries began with simple questions about the target species: where and how to capture them, then how much to harvest, when and where.  By the time the "how much to harvest" questions emerged, questions about how many and then which individuals or groups to allow to fish had to be confronted.  Answering these questions needed different information, and the institutions and processes to provide the information developed largely independently, usually with quite different protocols and practices.

When the "ecosystem influences on fisheries" and quickly thereafter the "fishery impacts on ecosystem" questions emerged, yet more and different information was needed.  When the fishery decision-making processes sought this information, they found relevant experts and expert processes already were engaged in informing conservation decisions being made in other settings. In these settings fisheries were not the focal outcome, and the experts had institutional allegiances different form the earlier fisheries expert advisors.

This brought a new type of challenge to fisheries institutions and processes. There were obvious inefficiencies, and sometimes contradictions, if the "ecosystem decisions" about fisheries were made separately in two different institutions and processes, each with its own standards and customs. There were possibly even greater risks, though, in taking fisheries questions to institutions and processes often not well informed of the fishery-related resource and human implications of the decisions being made. 

These ecosystem complexities were amplified with the human-related decisions of fisheries. Part of the evolution of the institutions and processes to address the people-related questions was an increasing use of participatory consultative bodies, where the balance among those interested in a fishery had to be managed carefully for the bodies to formulate useful advice. It is not an easy step to merely insert a wider range of society with interests in the ecosystem questions into these institutions and processes without tokenism or stress.  It is an even harder step, though, to get a careful treatment of the socio-economic interests of fisheries in institutions and processes not designed for addressing those questions. 

Into this increasingly complex web of institutions and processes, though, come the questions of integrating fisheries with other industries and sectors. Once decisions acknowledge the fisheries have to be fit into an ecosystem, the questions of how that fit is affected by other things being done in the ecosystem become explicit and must be confronted. This would be a tractable challenge if there was universal agreement on what "fit into an ecosystem" means, but no such consensus exists. Part of the evolving SES conceptual framework is debate about whether "fit in" should be viewed as economic optimality, provision of livelihoods, maintenance of cultures and communities, or some mix of them all.  ​

This is a challenging discussion for all the relevant institutions and processes, but made even more challenging because that discussion requires not just "scientific information", but also knowledge from multiple knowledge systems –knowledge of science experts, local knowledge of communities, and indigenous knowledge of cultures. Rice concluded by proposing elements of an approach to meeting these new challenges of demands for integration of multiple aspects of fishery decisions - across the separate institutions and processes designed for managing uses and conserving nature, for managing different sectors using overlapping parts of an ecosystem, and across the multiple cultures that share our oceans and coasts; and integration using knowledge from different systems also with their own cultures and customs.   

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​Jake Rice, Chief Scientist Emeritus with Fisheries and Oceans Canada​.

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MSEAS 2016 Jake Rice: Fisheries governance in an SES system - All things for all people or all things for all creatures?

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