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Canadian Fisheries Research Network framework meets Access Theory

By Courtenay E. Parlee

My name is Courtenay E. Parlee and I was hired in January, 2021 as a Research Scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Prior to working for DFO, I was an Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) Postdoctoral Fellow working with Dr. Paul Foley at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University as part Sub-module I-1 “Access to Resources & Markets” in the Informing Governance Responses in a Changing Ocean OFI collaborative research project. During my fellowship, I worked alongside my colleagues Dr. Paul Foley, Dr. María Andrée López Gómez, Md. Ruyel Miah, Dr. Charles Mather, and Dr. Robert Stephenson to co-author a publication in the Journal of Marine Policy entitled “Full spectrum sustainability and a theory of access: Integrating social benefits into fisheries governance”.

We have submitted an abstract to present the results from this paper at the 4th World Small Scale Fisheries Congress: North America being held in St. John’s, Newfoundland from June 20-22, 2022. This contribution to the OFI newsletter is based on the Marine Policy publication and links key findings to the Getting IT Right theme of the Congress.


The six main topics around which the Congress will be organized, including “Getting GOVERNANCE Right”, connect to the goals of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. The Decade aims to inspire the science community, policy makers, the private sector and civil society to “think beyond business as usual and aspire for real change” (UN 2020). A key objective of the Decade is to identify and pursue solutions that meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resource for sustainable development. One of the 10 targets for this goal is 14b: “provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets” (FAO 2020; UN 2020). Oceans policy at national levels are also being confronted with addressing concerns around the distribution of access and benefits to coastal and Indigenous peoples and communities (Poe et al 2014; Rindorf et al 2017; Bennett et al 2018; Claudet et al 2019; Foley et al 2020). As a result, managers are facing a growing agenda with a more diverse set of objectives, increased governance considerations, and changing and conflicting priorities.

While there is growing recognition that diverse societal considerations need to be integrated into management to achieve sustainability, contemporary management approaches remain dominated by natural and physical sciences (Hector et al 2020; Bavinck & Verrips 2020). As a result, there has been a significant lack of capacity to integrate human dimensions into governance and management processes to achieve sustainability (UN 2009; Stephenson et al 2017). Furthermore, methods for analyzing access and benefits in the context of sustainability frameworks are lacking.

Excluding social science analysis and evidence about processes such as the distribution of access and benefits from fisheries governance is an urgent problem that must be addressed. The inability to incorporate economic, social, and institutional considerations has led to a failure to achieve a diverse set of objectives identified in legislation, policy and agreements and to a further loss in confidence in management systems (Begg et al 2015; Stephenson et al 2017). Furthermore, where the impact of access policy regimes on community benefits have gone untracked, they have had unintended and unanticipated consequences (Stephenson et al 2017; also see Hall-Arber et al 2009, Olson 2011; Coulthard & Britton 2015; Symes et al 2015; Breslow et al 2016, Bennett et al 2018; Marshall et al 2018; Pascoe et al 2014).

As a group of co-authors, we were interested in responding to the challenge of bringing diverse social science frameworks into applied fisheries governance analysis (Bavinck & Verrips 2020; Kraan & Linke 2020). More specifically, we were interested in how to Get GOVERNANCE Right in relation to the distribution of access and benefits. To do this, we incorporated a framework for analyzing the distribution of access and benefits into a full-spectrum sustainability framework developed the Canadian Fisheries Research Network (CFRN) (Stephenson et al. 2018; Foley et al 2020). The benefit of the full spectrum sustainability framework is that it includes social, cultural, economic and institutional candidate objectives, and indicators. Under the economic dimension the full-spectrum sustainability framework includes general objectives and indicators for the distribution of access and benefits, and regional economic development. Missing however, is articulation of the broad range of factors that enable or constrain the ability of people to secure access to resources, and to benefit from them. To deepen and extend consideration of access and benefits into the full-spectrum sustainability framework, we drew on insights from Jesse Ribot and Nancy Peluso's (2003) Theory of Access. Ribot and Peluso argue that property is only one factor in a larger set of economic, social, cultural and institutional relations that impact the flows of benefits from resources such as fisheries. The emphasis on the ability to benefit is noteworthy, as Ribot and Peluso believe that access on its own is not enough, that it must be matched by the ability to benefit from access. The ability to benefit is influenced by a range of factors and mechanisms including access to markets, labor, capital, social identity, knowledge, authority, social relations, and biophysical characteristics. The Theory also offers an approach to analyze access which involves identifying and mapping the various mechanisms that create “bundles of power” which enable rightsholders and stakeholders to gain, control and maintain access (Ribot & Peluso 2003).

Bringing these two frameworks into conversation (Parlee et al 2021 Table 3) systematically integrates a social science analysis of how benefits are generated into fisheries governance frameworks. Together, they also create a pragmatic framework that can be used by fisheries managers and other fisheries governance rights holders and stakeholders. We have identified several immediate uses of the framework in applied settings to integrate social benefits analysis into fisheries governance: These immediate uses include:

1. Development of specific objectives and indicators around access and benefits

The articulation of specific objectives with indicators are important because they enhance communication, transparency, effectiveness and accountability in natural resource management. They are also central to the process of assessing the performance of fisheries policies and management in structured decision making (e.g. Brooks et al 2015; Clay et al 2020; Angel et al 2019).

2. Help identify, organize and analyze social benefit data

A comprehensive understanding of access and benefits requires socially engaged, collaborative, participatory and comprehensive research approaches. Collaborations involving Rights holders and stakeholders with varying degrees of knowledge can help to identify, organize and analyze different types of primary and secondary data that are both qualitative and quantitative in nature.

3. Guide the development of cross-disciplinary representations of a system

Cross-disciplinary representations of a system can highlight and connect access mechanisms to better understand who benefits, how, who does not, and why, from a resource such as fish (e.g. Bennett et al 2021; Cohen et al 2019; Hobday et al 2020; Levin et al 2016; Neimark et al 2019; Stephenson et al 2018; Williams 2020; De Piper et al 2020; Gaichas 2018).

4. Lay out potential trade-offs, cumulative impacts and changes to oceans governance

By clarifying interactions among access mechanisms, there is greater emphasis and sensitivity around equity and power, thereby making trade-offs, cumulative impacts and changes to oceans governance more transparent and accountable (Bennett et al 2018; Cohen et al 2019; Neimark et al 2019).

5. Help users respond to national and international objectives around the distribution of access and benefits.

Responding to national and international objectives around the distribution of access and benefits can advance sustainability.

Together A Theory of Access and Full-Spectrum Sustainability enrich the social and economic dimensions of integrated fisheries governance. They consider the full social-ecological system, allow for the articulation of specific objectives, and they integrate social, cultural, economic, institutional and ecological dimensions of sustainability. Additionally, the combined frameworks reduce the probability of untracked, and therefore unintended consequences. Improving governance processes are particularly important given that research has demonstrated that effective governance is often the biggest barrier in achieving sustainability (Claudet et al 2019; Levin et al 2016; Parlee & Wiber 2018). However, if we Get GOVERNANCE Right, governance structures and processes can attain equity and fairness in fisheries management decisions (Breslow et al 2016; Carruthers et al 2019; Foley & Mather 2019; Link et al 2017; Pascoe et al 2014; Phillipson & Symes 2013). Attaining equity and fairness in the distribution of benefits from fishing requires much better knowledge of who benefits, how, where, when and through what mechanisms. The combined frameworks move away from the business-as-usual management approach and offer a means through which to integrate knowledge about the distribution of access and benefits improve fisheries governance for sustainability.



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Courtenay graduated from Acadia University with a BA in History, and a minor in Sociology. She obtained her MPhil (Alternative Dispute Resolution stream), and her Interdisciplinary PhD (Anthropology, Sociology) from the University of New Brunswick. Prior to working with DFO, she was an Ocean Frontier Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland. Courtenay has over a decade of experience with community- engaged qualitative research in Atlantic Canada. Courtenay is currently a Research Scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and her research focuses on understanding the human dimensions of the Maritimes Region Lobster fishery.

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