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Implementation of ecosystem-based ocean management

Doctoral dissertation
Year of publication
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Involved from NIVA
Gunnar Sander
Gunnar Sander, Peter Arbo, Bjørn Hersoug


Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is a holistic approach for nature management that aims at achieving the good health and sustainable use of ecosystems. It is a complex and challenging concept: understanding ecosystems and human impacts upon them is complicated, there are demanding needs for collaboration and harmonisation of approaches and policies, and many conflicting interests must be balanced. Thus, implementation of the concept has been slow. EBM depends on assessments. The most relevant tool is strategic environmental assessment (SEA). SEA has a weak position in the international law of the sea. This mismatch between assessment needs and legal status of SEA may be addressed in the ongoing UN negotiations about biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The thesis work has compared how Norway and Canada have implemented EBM. In Norway, EBM has become a routine by the preparation of management plans. Most of the measures the Barents Sea management plan have been implemented, indicating that the plan has reduced pressures on the ecosystem. In Canada, two trial projects for EBM did not result in the implementation of any new measures for the management of the oceans. The different results can primarily be explained by the different roles of the two governments. The Norwegian aimed for a whole-of-government approach and led the planning in a top-down manner. The Canadian delegated the entire task according to a governance approach. The consensus-based collaborative planning that followed did not resolve conflicts and resulted in high-level strategic plans that were not implementable. As a contrast, the Norwegian government negotiated compromises over conflicts internally and managed to prepare a plan that was more concrete. These results contradicts the many recommendations of governance-based approaches in EBM. The results also rejects prior conclusions contending that national ocean policies based on law tend to be more successful than those solely based on executive action.