Towards sustainable management of kelp forests: An analysis of adaptive governance in developing regimes for wild kelp harvesting in Scotland and Norway
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionOcean and Coastal Management. 2021, 212, 105816. 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2021.105816
Kelp forests are highly productive habitats which support important marine species and ecosystem services including coastal protection and carbon storage. Demand is increasing for commercial products from wild and cultivated kelp, however questions remain on how harvesting of wild kelp can be managed and governed in a sustainable and adaptive way. This paper analyses and contrasts the institutional arrangements for wild kelp harvesting in Scotland and Norway by examining three recent governance processes through document analysis and participant observation. We investigate to what extent the regimes display three foundational aspects of adaptive governance: local governance and participation; the use of knowledge; and legal adaptive capacity. Industrial harvesting has been underway for decades in Norway but is not yet practiced in Scotland, although kelp availability and traditional usage are similar. In Scotland, following extensive public objection in response to proposed industrial harvesting, a legal restriction was adopted in 2019 that prohibits industrial harvesting of whole plants, and the regulatory regime remains under review. In Norway, governance of kelp harvesting is designed to be adaptive and inclusive through periodic review of regional harvesting regulations, yet has not been adjusted despite contestation from stakeholders. In both cases, adaptive governance processes are indicated but are not influential on outcomes. Our paper reveals several obstacles to knowledge-based adaptive governance in practice. First, it is insufficient to create the processes of engagement and participation - these must be empowered to influence governance and remain legitimate. In both cases, the regimes remain hierarchical and dominated by central agencies, even though structures for local governance are available. Second, integrating scientific and local knowledge was shown to be difficult, and mechanisms to debate and negotiate risks and benefits were lacking. In each case, diverging perspectives on kelp harvesting were sustained even though final outcomes were reached, and consensus was elusive. Third, adaptive capacity of applicable legal instruments is of crucial importance, with differences apparent in capacity to enable on-going revision (as in Norway) and limit future change (in Scotland). Poor co-ordination between legal instruments also leads to complications between actors with different mandates and policy objectives. Recommendations are made for an adaptive approach to protect and manage kelp as a critical habitat.