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Against all odds? Implementing ecosystem-based ocean management in the Barents Sea

Academic lecture
Year of publication
External websites
Involved from NIVA
Gunnar Sander
Gunnar Sander


The literature on ecosystem-based ocean management has a bias towards understanding ecosystems at the sacrifice of political processes that may lead to effective policies. This presentation analyzes the Barents Sea Management Plan according to implementation theory. Applying this well-established tradition also in the marine realm may facilitate systematic learning of why policies succeed or fail. The tradition focuses on the delivered policy, not the intended, and explains this output as the result of the policy formulation process, the properties of the policy and the implementation process. In this case: • The starting point for policy formulation was challenges described in ecosystem assessments that the ministries involved had to respond to. They received little advice on the design of effective measures. Major conflicts on oil, fisheries and the environment were negotiated at the highest political level in the cabinet. • The policy had broad and ambiguous objectives with operative targets only for the state of the ocean environment. The instruments reflect a traditional governmental policy style. No administrative structures for overseeing implementation were established, and no money was pre-allocated. • Implementation was mostly based on the will and ability of the individual ministries. Despite no statutory basis for the plans and several breaches of traditional advice for successful implementation, most measures are put into practice. Thus, the Norwegian political-administrative system managed to implement a complex policy effectively in a top-down manner. However, it is not possible to tell whether these actions solved the original policy problems. A part of the explanation for this somewhat unexpected result is the context, with a political system characterized by a consensus-seeking political culture, high trust, and a professional administration. The political origin of the management plans and the strong political support of the system is also noteworthy. Further explanations for the implementation results are the insights and political legitimacy achieved by a strong reliance on knowledge, the new framework for handling conflicts with authoritative decisions from the cabinet, and the collaborative style of involving the ministries.