The governance of international seas and fish trade include a complex web of states, INGOs, business associations and researchers. How they collaborate to curb illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is often a combination of various strategies. Photo: US Navy/Wikimedia Commons

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illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing

A knotty issue

New study explores the variation in strategies transnational partnerships employ when addressing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing

Story highlights

  • Little scholarly attention has been paid to understanding how and why transnational partnerships engage in advocacy
  • Study finds that transnational partnerships often combine inside strategies with service provision, but that they rarely use outside strategies, and analyze how this is shape by changes in political opportunity structures, such as complexity and salience
  • Insights may also be relevant for other transboundary environmental problems that future research could focus on

Governing international seas and the fish in them has always been a tricky affair. Fish, unlike trees, move easily between manmade borders and have migration routes that can span thousands of miles. Add to this the multitude of players operating in the world’s oceans such as states, INGOs, business associations and researchers.

In a new article published in the Journal of Interest Groups & Advocacy centre researcher Matilda Petersson deep-dived into this rather complex issue.

Specifically, Petersson studied the strategies transnational partnerships use when addressing the policy problem of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. A key goal was to explore the linkages between transnational partnerships and international environmental governance regimes, which she argues “deserves more scholarly attention” given the consequences it has for “shaping international regime effectiveness”.

The variation in strategies that partnerships use to shape policy development and implementation is important to consider given that these partnerships are formed by non-state actors for strategic reasons such as to pool resources and gain visibility, and that they are created by actors expected to engage in advocacy.

Matilda Petersson, study author

Strategies to stay afloat

Broadly, transnational partnerships are those that a) operate across national borders; b) comprise multiple actors including non-state actors; c) pursue public policy goals. These partnerships are broadly classified as private partnerships and public-private partnerships.

Partnerships engage in different kinds of strategies to meet advocacy goals. ‘Inside strategies’ are those that influence policy processes by directly engaging with policy makers (e.g. offering expertise and information). ‘Outside strategies’ are those that influence policy making by mobilizing public opinion (e.g. using media or campaigning). A third kind of strategy Petersson calls ‘service provision’ refers to activities such as “policy implementation and capacity building”.

She also argues that political opportunity structures are important for understanding these strategies with implications for policy development. “I focus on two changes in the policy environment that are believed to be important for the strategies used by advocacy groups: complexity and salience,” says Petersson.

Issue complexity can be broadly understood as the difficulty of understanding and solving the problem at hand, whereas institutional complexity refers to the number of actors and international organizations involved. Salience refers to how important a policy issue is to the state. Thus, policies addressing highly complex issues with greater institutional complexity would essentially be tackling problems that policy makers may have low technical expertise on and that concern several stakeholders. Similarly, highly salient issues are those that tend to receive increased attention from states and advocacy groups.

Three trends

Petersson’s study sample included 12 transnational partnerships that are active in IUU fishing policy. Data gathered from secondary sources and from semi-structured interviews conducted with partnership representatives helped her identify the “tactics and strategies they used to shape development and implementation of IUU fishing policy”.

Three trends stood out:

The first was that transnational partnerships have a tendency to rely on inside strategies. “For example, at the national level private partnerships seem to have access to policy-makers as a function of the services they provide,” she says.

The second was that partnerships rely on service-providing strategies e.g. providing satellite vessel tracking data for monitoring fishing activities. Here a central role was to be a “bridge between technology and political influence”, as one of her interviewees mentioned.

Thirdly, data showed that partnerships rarely use outside strategies such as “naming and shaming”, which according to some respondents is “unproductive” and outdated given the current fisheries governance context. The emphasis instead has been on “creating a strong compliance and enforcement system.”

Strategies of transnational partnerships: The color of the cells indicates the frequency at which partnerships use these strategies: white cells (no, we do not do this), light gray cells (yes, we do this sometimes), and dark gray cells (yes, we do this very often). Click on illustration to access scientific article.

All hands on deck needed

By analysing the data in parallel with the concepts of complexity and salience, Petersson concludes that since the 1990s IUU has become a progressively difficult problem to solve. Furthermore, it is also an issue of increasing salience to states. Several private and global governance institutions such as the OECD are now engaged in its policy formulation and development.

“The institutional landscape has also become increasingly complex and fragmented by the emergence of private authority and use of market-based approaches in fisheries governance,” she adds.

What is amply clear is that the topic of transnational partnerships and their relationships to environmental governance regimes is not an easy one to unpack and, hence, demands greater scholarly consideration. This also resonates with the SDGs and its emphasis on partnerships (see esp. goal 17) and an all hands-on-deck approach to address complex social-ecological issues as they manifest in and out of the seas.

Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
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