Kaplan reminds us about industry and people

Kaplan, I. 2007. “The importance of industrial and socio-economic considerations for maritime management and newly developed ecosystem based management plans.” Maritime policy and management. 34 (1); 81-84.

Kaplan’s focus of this short essay is to bring economic considerations and the concerns of industry to the table from the beginning of EBM decision makiing.This is becoming a common refrain, but the need to really incorporate socio-economic factors into decision making hasn’t reached the upper and lower levels of power where something can be done about it. Kaplan here offers four directions for solutions–some are stuff we’ve heard from almost everyone involved in this debate (e.g., we need to get government agencies to talk to one another), some need to be clarified more, and some are novel or stated in a way that could help move this forward – all are good grounds for further discussion, which I’ll kick off in no particular order:

Heard this before, but what do we do about it?
Getting government agencies to talk to one another – everyone has been saying this, and not just for ocean issues. This was the big focus in the post-9/11 security debate and the result was the Dept. of Homeland Security. It’s too early to say that DHS has been a failure, but it has certainly failed some big tests – notably the response to Katrina. I’d argue that this failure had to do with a mis-match in the scale of the problem and the solution. After 9/11, everyone was outraged that an FBI field officer could say, “there’s some weird business with foreigners taking flight lessons” and no one listened – a relatively localized problem – but the solution became, “all government agencies with security responsibility need to be under the same roof”. Really, the solution is that the right people need to be able to talk to the right people at the right time. There are other examples of cross-government communication that are better models – for instance, in the case of environmental justice issues there is a multi-agency task force that gets people from various agencies together – the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Unfortunately, that issue is probably as far from terrorism as any in terms of serious national attention, and so there’s little real power or budget to be able to back up the work of the task force. Ocean issues have a lot more weight behind them but that momentum needs to be directed so we don’t end up with the DHS model.

Good idea, but needs to be clarified some more

Getting an understanding of the social and economic factors before implementing a new management plan. Here I see a Catch-22 that could be effectively gamed by folks who would rather do nothing. Clearly, we need a better, more nuanced understanding of all the relevant factors (not just biology) when we plan. Yet at the same time we are currently lacking in even basic biological information, let alone socio-economic data. How much of an understanding do we need before we proceed? Would it be better to go forward with well-intentioned best guesses and then continually evaluate and respond based on responses? That sounds good and adaptable, but what if the response is that a biological fishery is wiped out, or that the people fishing that fishery are wiped out? Is there a way to establish thresholds for minimum socio-economic background data needed to make an effective management plan?

Good idea that merits immediate attention
Improve management practices and procedures as they relate to interactions among economic, political, social and biological systems. The key word here is “interactions” – this is the key to ecology and it follows that EBM should also be based in the interactions among it’s key components. To this Kaplan adds the idea of incorporating “sensitivity to fluidity in economic trends and resource use” – which I take to mean that these systems change pretty rapidly, especially in how they relate to one another, so our management plans need to be able to deal with those changes. There is a really good parallel here in the classic forest ecology paper, “The View from John Sanderson’s Farm” (discussed here) which talks about the changing use of a New England farm being driven by changing human attitudes about what they need from the land – thus making inflexible forest conservation plans virtually useless over their 60-100 y lifespan. Even a 5 year ocean management plan may be made obsolete by our rapidly changing relation to the oceans. Adaptability is the key here.

Good idea that I hope Dr. Kaplan or someone is doing
Examine case studies of impacted ports Kaplan takes pains to note that all ports are diverse and will respond differently to management actions. This is also an important theme in the work of Marty Smith at Duke’s Nicholas School. However, I do agree with Kaplan that there is a lot of value to looking back in a comprehensive manner at how past actions have affected the social-economic conditions in port towns. While “past performance is no guarantee of future results”, trends and patterns may emerge from this analysis, or at the least me may learn what not to do.


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