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Record number 445120
Title Sea@shore: informational governance in marine spatial conflicts at the North Sea
Author(s) Toonen, H.M.
Source University. Promotor(en): Arthur Mol; Jan van Tatenhove; Han Lindeboom. - Wageningen UR : Wageningen UR - ISBN 9789461737748 - 199
Department(s) Environmental Policy
Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management
WIMEK
Publication type Dissertation, internally prepared
Publication year 2013
Keyword(s) aquatische ecosystemen - mariene gebieden - natuurbescherming - zeereservaten - governance - noordzee - windenergie - zeevisserij - milieubeleid - aquatic ecosystems - marine areas - nature conservation - marine protected areas - north sea - wind power - marine fisheries - environmental policy
Categories Environmental Policy / Marine Ecology
Abstract

Oceans and seas seem to be an empty space and untouched wilderness, but are in fact heavily used and exploited by different economic activities which have, to greater or lesser extent, environmental impacts. Attention for marine environmental challenges has grown, and is nowadays captured by views on ecosystem-based management. This builds on the notion that the way forward in marine ecosystem protection is an integrated approach that is place- or area-based (so-called spatial turn) and should use the best available scientific information. This research focuses on this spatial turn in marine governance at the North Sea, one of the busiest seas in the world. More specifically, the emphasis on the informational governance of spatial tensions between nature conservation and economic activities at the North Sea.

Informational governance points to the growing centrality of informational processes in decision-making around environmental challenges. Information is seen as an indispensable resource to use in resolving such challenges and serves as steering tool in governing sustainability. Information provision through all kind of (online) media means is deliberately aimed at influencing decision-making and fostering change of behaviour. In the marine context, informational governance seems to be a new and promising mode of governance. Facilitated by information and communication technologies, information can connect spatially distant environmental issues to people’s daily lives. However, information is not seen as an unproblematic and neutral object, it is at the centre of struggles and debates in decision-making on resolving spatial and environmental challenges at sea.

This study analyzes how public and private actors through informational governance (try to) resolve spatial conflicts between economic activities and nature conservation at the North Sea, in order to better understand the centripetal force of information in marine governance. Three research questions are guiding the research:

How can the centrality of information in the spatial turn in marine governance be conceptualized and analyzed? Which actors are involved in informational governance on marine ecosystem protection and use at the North Sea, and how do they (inter-) act in informational processes? How does informational governance contribute to the solving of spatial conflicts between economic activities and nature conservation at the North Sea?

Chapter 2 gives an account of the research methodology that underpins the research. It explains that the study draws on a non-radical constructivist and critical realist perspective, and presents the research design used in the study: a qualitative case study approach. The selection of the cases has been based on two different rationales. Two cases were selected as they highlight the role of three main actor groups in informational governance at sea. Two other cases explore informational processes in governance arrangements with regard to a specific spatial conflict between marine ecosystem conservation and use(fisheries and offshore wind power development) . In the study, triangulated data gathering served to strengthen the validity and reliability of the research. The mix of methods employed included document review of research reports, policy documents and online information; semi-structured interviews; and participatory observation in several meetings and conferences. In data analysis, an iterative approach following the theoretical propositions of the research was used.

In Chapter 3, the marine scaping framework is presented to analyse informational governance on marine ecosystem protection and use. Marine scaping through information follows the morphogenetic approach and combines a focus on conditions structuring informational processes with an agency-based approach. The framework distinguishes three scapes that together form the structure-side: seascape, humanscape and mindscape. Seascape represents the connection between the biophysical specifics of the marine ecosystem and the material features of economic activities that are emplaced in this ecosystem. Humanscape points to human organization in social, political and economic terms. Mindscape brings in the ideational dimension, and refers to discourses, ideas, norms, values and perceptions. In the interplay of humanscape with seascape and mindscape, the connection with agency is made, pointing to the initiatives and interactions between actors who, by means of information, strive for sustainability at the North Sea. To assess whether conditions have changed over time, so- called elaboration is added to the framework. In marine governance, the explicit aim is to strive for a balance between ecosystem protection and use, hence to foster elaboration.

Chapter 3 illustrates the application of the marine scaping framework by a case study about informational initiatives of eNGO officials who want to push the development of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) at the North Sea forward, in order to achieve “ecological coherence” in marine conservation on the North Sea. It is indicated how and why officials from environmental non-gouvernmental organizations (eNGOs) carried out extensive science-based studies to inform policy-making. This information remains however footloose, because there was no institutional setting where the specific need for a MPA network was (high) on the agenda, and as such, eNGOs had no opportunity to tap their reports into existing informational processes. At the same time, this case study shows how eNGOs build up their so-called “informational capital”.

The case study presented in Chapter 4 provides a historical understanding of informational interactions between science and policy in the Dutch MPA site selection. By establishing MPAs, nature conservation gains literally a place on the North Sea map. Following international regulations and treaties, North Sea countries are obliged to take the leading role in the designation process, and to use scientific criteria only, based on biological and ecological information. The chapter shows that information about vulnerable and pristine habitats and sea life that needs to be protected was merely lacking or contested. It becomes evident that ecological , socio-economic and political considerations cannot be easily separated. Scientists and policy-makers dealt with the entanglement of interests by sharing tasks in the informational processes, being both information providers and users. It is found that especially in cases of uncertainties and data gaps, judgment by scientists is best characterized as expert judgment and sometimes even gut feeling. However, it is also highlighted that it is necessary to keep science as impartial as possible, and to overtly communicate what and whose information is used.

Chapter 5 analyses the role of information in incorporating the habitat impact of bottom touching gear in the certification scheme of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). This represents a spatial conflict between one of the oldest maritime activities at the North Sea, (plaice) fisheries, and marine conservation. The global MSC labeling program is probably the most famous example of informational governance on marine ecosystem protection and use, as it is almost 20 years old. It fits in neatly with the ideas of informational governance: scientific information to assess the environmental performance of a fishery clash with information derived from the fishery itself and stakeholders. And at the same time, information about the fisheries' performance (through the logo on a fish product) is brought to consumers who in turn can reward sustainable fisheries through their buying power. This case study indicates how eNGOs use informational capital in the informational struggles . This role became especially evident during the assessment of the first North Sea plaice fishery, when WWF started to negotiate information with fishermen beyond the formal MSC assessment procedure in order to creating so-called ‘no take-zones’. The eNGO made sure that informal interactions were not totally disconnected from the assessment process. According to this case study, the two fisheries who agreed on the spatial measure also tried to get most out of the additional spatial measure that became part of their certification. They took the spatial measure up in their message towards (potential) clients, stating their fisheries go even beyond the high sustainability standards of MSC.

The case study in Chapter 6 concerns informational processes related to the ecological impacts of an economic newcomer at the North Sea, that is offshore wind energy. The chapter highlights how the sustainability promise of this renewable source appears to be ‘dark green’: offshore wind farms (OWFs) contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and to the protection of certain marine life (benthos, fish and some bird species). Remarkably, the ecological differentiation towards offshore wind power remains unexploited. Powerful actors related to this pro-wind discourse, such as the wind sector and large eNGOs, are hesitant to use the dark green message of offshore wind power. In onshore wind debates, their emphasis is on the dominant ‘pro-wind’ discourse about combating climate change which leaves no room for (nuanced) spatial and ecological concerns. It is however stated that including the ecological merits of OWFs in an (existing) informational governance design would not be very complicated, and allows actors to commonly strive for further differentiation in the European electricity market.

The last chapter recapitulates the general findings of the research. The conclusions suggest that a broad array of actors is involved in informational processes that relate to marine governance and push for more sustainability at the North Sea. These actors can take up five distinctive roles in informational processes, that of information negotiator, information authority, information manager, information verifier and information mediator. This role division might be established in a formal way, although often there is room for actors to take up different roles, sometimes only temporally or informally. The conclusions also point to the theoretical contribution of this research to the theoretical development of informational governance, most notably the lessons learnt from its application to the marine context. The methodological reflections indicate the generalizability of the findings, which are in this research linked to the development of the marine scaping framework and the empirically informed distinction between the five roles of actors in informational governance. Finally, the concluding chapter highlights opportunities for future research, such as studies of informational governance related to other economic activities at the North Sea or in other parts of the world.


Oceans and seas seem to be an empty space and untouched wilderness, but are in fact heavily used and exploited by different economic activities which have, to greater or lesser extent, environmental impacts. Attention for marine environmental challenges has grown, and is nowadays captured by views on ecosystem-based management. This builds on the notion that the way forward in marine ecosystem protection is an integrated approach that is place- or area-based (so-called spatial turn) and should use the best available scientific information. This research focuses on this spatial turn in marine governance at the North Sea, one of the busiest seas in the world. More specifically, the emphasis on the informational governance of spatial tensions between nature conservation and economic activities at the North Sea.

Informational governance points to the growing centrality of informational processes in decision-making around environmental challenges. Information is seen as an indispensable resource to use in resolving such challenges and serves as steering tool in governing sustainability. Information provision through all kind of (online) media means is deliberately aimed at influencing decision-making and fostering change of behaviour. In the marine context, informational governance seems to be a new and promising mode of governance. Facilitated by information and communication technologies, information can connect spatially distant environmental issues to people’s daily lives. However, information is not seen as an unproblematic and neutral object, it is at the centre of struggles and debates in decision-making on resolving spatial and environmental challenges at sea.

This study analyzes how public and private actors through informational governance (try to) resolve spatial conflicts between economic activities and nature conservation at the North Sea, in order to better understand the centripetal force of information in marine governance. Three research questions are guiding the research:

How can the centrality of information in the spatial turn in marine governance be conceptualized and analyzed? Which actors are involved in informational governance on marine ecosystem protection and use at the North Sea, and how do they (inter-) act in informational processes? How does informational governance contribute to the solving of spatial conflicts between economic activities and nature conservation at the North Sea?

Chapter 2 gives an account of the research methodology that underpins the research. It explains that the study draws on a non-radical constructivist and critical realist perspective, and presents the research design used in the study: a qualitative case study approach. The selection of the cases has been based on two different rationales. Two cases were selected as they highlight the role of three main actor groups in informational governance at sea. Two other cases explore informational processes in governance arrangements with regard to a specific spatial conflict between marine ecosystem conservation and use(fisheries and offshore wind power development) . In the study, triangulated data gathering served to strengthen the validity and reliability of the research. The mix of methods employed included document review of research reports, policy documents and online information; semi-structured interviews; and participatory observation in several meetings and conferences. In data analysis, an iterative approach following the theoretical propositions of the research was used.

In Chapter 3, the marine scaping framework is presented to analyse informational governance on marine ecosystem protection and use. Marine scaping through information follows the morphogenetic approach and combines a focus on conditions structuring informational processes with an agency-based approach. The framework distinguishes three scapes that together form the structure-side: seascape, humanscape and mindscape. Seascape represents the connection between the biophysical specifics of the marine ecosystem and the material features of economic activities that are emplaced in this ecosystem. Humanscape points to human organization in social, political and economic terms. Mindscape brings in the ideational dimension, and refers to discourses, ideas, norms, values and perceptions. In the interplay of humanscape with seascape and mindscape, the connection with agency is made, pointing to the initiatives and interactions between actors who, by means of information, strive for sustainability at the North Sea. To assess whether conditions have changed over time, so- called elaboration is added to the framework. In marine governance, the explicit aim is to strive for a balance between ecosystem protection and use, hence to foster elaboration.

Chapter 3 illustrates the application of the marine scaping framework by a case study about informational initiatives of eNGO officials who want to push the development of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) at the North Sea forward, in order to achieve “ecological coherence” in marine conservation on the North Sea. It is indicated how and why officials from environmental non-gouvernmental organizations (eNGOs) carried out extensive science-based studies to inform policy-making. This information remains however footloose, because there was no institutional setting where the specific need for a MPA network was (high) on the agenda, and as such, eNGOs had no opportunity to tap their reports into existing informational processes. At the same time, this case study shows how eNGOs build up their so-called “informational capital”.

The case study presented in Chapter 4 provides a historical understanding of informational interactions between science and policy in the Dutch MPA site selection. By establishing MPAs, nature conservation gains literally a place on the North Sea map. Following international regulations and treaties, North Sea countries are obliged to take the leading role in the designation process, and to use scientific criteria only, based on biological and ecological information. The chapter shows that information about vulnerable and pristine habitats and sea life that needs to be protected was merely lacking or contested. It becomes evident that ecological , socio-economic and political considerations cannot be easily separated. Scientists and policy-makers dealt with the entanglement of interests by sharing tasks in the informational processes, being both information providers and users. It is found that especially in cases of uncertainties and data gaps, judgment by scientists is best characterized as expert judgment and sometimes even gut feeling. However, it is also highlighted that it is necessary to keep science as impartial as possible, and to overtly communicate what and whose information is used.

Chapter 5 analyses the role of information in incorporating the habitat impact of bottom touching gear in the certification scheme of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). This represents a spatial conflict between one of the oldest maritime activities at the North Sea, (plaice) fisheries, and marine conservation. The global MSC labeling program is probably the most famous example of informational governance on marine ecosystem protection and use, as it is almost 20 years old. It fits in neatly with the ideas of informational governance: scientific information to assess the environmental performance of a fishery clash with information derived from the fishery itself and stakeholders. And at the same time, information about the fisheries' performance (through the logo on a fish product) is brought to consumers who in turn can reward sustainable fisheries through their buying power. This case study indicates how eNGOs use informational capital in the informational struggles . This role became especially evident during the assessment of the first North Sea plaice fishery, when WWF started to negotiate information with fishermen beyond the formal MSC assessment procedure in order to creating so-called ‘no take-zones’. The eNGO made sure that informal interactions were not totally disconnected from the assessment process. According to this case study, the two fisheries who agreed on the spatial measure also tried to get most out of the additional spatial measure that became part of their certification. They took the spatial measure up in their message towards (potential) clients, stating their fisheries go even beyond the high sustainability standards of MSC.

The case study in Chapter 6 concerns informational processes related to the ecological impacts of an economic newcomer at the North Sea, that is offshore wind energy. The chapter highlights how the sustainability promise of this renewable source appears to be ‘dark green’: offshore wind farms (OWFs) contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and to the protection of certain marine life (benthos, fish and some bird species). Remarkably, the ecological differentiation towards offshore wind power remains unexploited. Powerful actors related to this pro-wind discourse, such as the wind sector and large eNGOs, are hesitant to use the dark green message of offshore wind power. In onshore wind debates, their emphasis is on the dominant ‘pro-wind’ discourse about combating climate change which leaves no room for (nuanced) spatial and ecological concerns. It is however stated that including the ecological merits of OWFs in an (existing) informational governance design would not be very complicated, and allows actors to commonly strive for further differentiation in the European electricity market.

The last chapter recapitulates the general findings of the research. The conclusions suggest that a broad array of actors is involved in informational processes that relate to marine governance and push for more sustainability at the North Sea. These actors can take up five distinctive roles in informational processes, that of information negotiator, information authority, information manager, information verifier and information mediator. This role division might be established in a formal way, although often there is room for actors to take up different roles, sometimes only temporally or informally. The conclusions also point to the theoretical contribution of this research to the theoretical development of informational governance, most notably the lessons learnt from its application to the marine context. The methodological reflections indicate the generalizability of the findings, which are in this research linked to the development of the marine scaping framework and the empirically informed distinction between the five roles of actors in informational governance. Finally, the concluding chapter highlights opportunities for future research, such as studies of informational governance related to other economic activities at the North Sea or in other parts of the world.

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