Resolving conflict over risk management in the marine environment: strengthening governance institutions

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University of New Brunswick


In the marine environment conflicts that arise from ‘wicked problems’ (in sensu Rittel and Webber 1973; Jentoft and Chuenpagdee 2009) are inevitable given the plurality of actors, interests, values and uses, and the division of powers between provincial and federal government agencies in Canada. If conflict is not dealt with, governance objectives may be impossible to attain therefore threatening sustainability of social-ecological systems. One approach to promote sustainability is to develop innovative institutional arrangements for adaptive co-management (Olsson et al 2004; Hughes et al 2005; Folke et al 2005; Armitage et al 2009). An example of such an innovative institution is the Southwest New Brunswick (SWNB) Bay of Fundy Marine Advisory Committee (MAC), which was assembled in 2004 to address conflict between marine users. This dissertation examines the differing perceptions of risk among actors in SWNB, and evaluates MAC tools for monitoring and assessing risk. It then compares these tools to a sustainability indicator framework recently developed by the Canadian Fisheries Research Network. The dissertation analyses the role that conflict plays in either enabling or hindering innovative institutions and their response to risk. I critique the normatively oriented literature on adaptive co-management using the critical perspective of the governmentality literature (following Foucault, Dean and others). In doing so, I ask questions about conflict and power dynamics within the MAC to better understand how people internalize ideas and how it influences their behaviour. The results from this case study suggest that conflict has created new institutions and empowered new actors to assess risk and to co-operate to solve problems. However, conflict has also profoundly restructured the parameters of political democracy (Swyngedouw 2005:1993), particularly as seen in the capacity of the MAC to resolve conflict, their mechanisms of participation and their ability to be both transparent and accountable. Based on this case study, I make several recommendations for improving the MAC. Down-scaling governance to ‘local’ institutions such as the MAC will require understanding the contradictory ways in which the role of conflict both enables and hinders innovative institutions, and how this in turn impacts democratic processes (ibid).