Stakeholder Attitudes Toward Marine Protected Areas

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Project Type: 
Inception Date: 
Completion Date: 
Theme Area: 
Fisheries Resources
Coastal Communities and Economics


Bruce Eisenhauer Plymouth State University Principal Investigator
Katherine Donahue Plymouth State University Co-Principal Investigator

Students Involved:

Brian Gagnon Plymouth State University

Introduction: The Need for Social Science Research on MPA issues

The management of marine resources continues to be an important issue as threats to the natural resource base are identified and awareness of the issues in both public and professional forums increases. One effort to conserve marine resources in the United States is the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), zones in which activities are or would be regulated to aid the management of fisheries and other marine resources. To date, efforts to establish marine protected areas have been undertaken at numerous levels, including state and federal, which complicate considerably the human and natural resource dimensions of the issues involved. This research proposal outlines a social science research project that investigates stakeholders' perceptions of past public involvement processes and their attitudes toward current Marine Protected Area (MPA) issues in the Jeffreys Ledge area, which are an important factors in developing knowledge of the social dimensions of MPA related issues in New Hampshire.

Natural resource management has traditionally been viewed as a task governed by scientific disciplinary knowledge, but the need to incorporate stakeholder and community perspectives in efforts to collaboratively develop management plans is necessary to ensure the success of management efforts and to avert environmental conflicts (Daniels and Walker 2001; Ozawa and Susskind 1985). The need for these approaches in regards to MPAs is evident in numerous works on the topic (Capitini et al. 2004; Weible, Sabatier, and Lubell 2004; Agardy et al. 2003; Friedlander et al. 2003) and is identified in the New Hampshire Sea Grant Strategic Plan for 2001-2006, which states: "Of highest priority in the search for new approaches to fisheries management is the need for effective communication and genuine partnership among the diverse stakeholders" (NH Sea Grant: 12).

The National Marine Protected Areas Center asserts that: "Although we are beginning to understand the natural ecology of these systems more fully, federal and state management agencies often lack information on the social, cultural, and economic aspects of MPAs." (National Marine Protected Areas Center, 2003). As clarified by the National Marine Protected Areas Center, while there is increasing information about the state of marine resources and the workings of marine ecosystems, one important gap within that extensive body of scientific research is the lack of examination of the role that human values, decisions, and behaviors play in the development and application of effective management tools in the NH seacoast and Gulf of Maine region, including the Jeffreys Ledge area.

The human dimensions are among the most complex variables in any management program, and it is important to acknowledge that the effectiveness of scientifically-grounded management techniques is strongly influenced by social factors. Simply put, before appropriate and effective management tools can be created and employed, a fundamental understanding of the social and cultural factors that influence public perceptions must be developed. Incorporating knowledge of these factors into current policy and management efforts can assist managers in their efforts to develop successful plans of action by facilitating their collaborative creation. A critically important part of natural resource management is public involvement, and this research will examine stakeholders' perceptions of past public involvement process and their attitudes toward current MPA related issues.

Research Methods

The Interview Protocol: Foundations in Previous Research

The interview protocol will be developed using insights from previous research on MPA issues and Gulf of Maine issues, as well as research on public involvement in natural resource management. Public involvement in Gulf of Maine fisheries issues is representative of a trend in natural resource management over the last twenty years that represents a move towards more participatory governance (Daniels and Cheng, 2004). The approaches are an emergent process intended to allow participants to educate one another, to work on a scale relevant to their life experiences, and to have active participation in decisions on important issues affecting their communities and their lives. Several analyses have been conducted that identify key elements necessary for success in natural resource participatory governance endeavors. Of these, two separate works provided the most appropriate areas of focus for examining perceptions of past public involvement processes in the proposed research.

In "Community Natural Resource Management: Promise, Rhetoric, and Reality," Kellert et al. (2000) examined five case studies of community based natural resource management throughout the world to summarize empirical evidence of key factors related to their successful implementation. Several of these case studies involved fisheries related issues. While the programs in the case studies had met with varying levels of success as defined by outcomes, some key variables necessary for the successful evaluation of programs were identified (Kellert et. al., 2000:707). While some of these factors are not immediately relevant to MPA issues in the Gulf of Maine/Jeffreys Ledge region, the effects of the program on the concepts of equity, empowerment, knowledge and awareness, and perceptions of conservation success will be examined.

Daniels and Cheng (2004) conducted a meta-analysis of studies of key factors related to the success of discourse-based approaches to natural resource management. "Discourse-based approaches" is the label these authors created to categorize the wide variety of activities that constitute participatory governance efforts in natural resource management (Daniels and Cheng, 2004). One of their most important points for the proposed research is the recognition that engaging in these activities necessitates a change in the role of natural resource managers from technical experts to facilitators of social learning (Dukes 1996). This change offers many challenges, and examining how effective the social learning process is in previous public participation activities will be a focus of the research.

While the literature cited and discussed above provides the foundation for some of the content in the interview schedule and the project as a whole, it must be noted that additional literature on MPA research will also contribute to the development of the interview protocol. Capitini et al. (2004) studied an environmental conflict that arose when Hawaiian state agencies established MPAs using the view that scientific information would settle disputes among participants in community based management. Their research found that participants in the process did not feel it was a truly collaborative one because of the exclusively scientific framing of the issues, and as a result the enforcement procedures were not fully enacted as proposed. The authors' research indicated that the under-representation of identity-based community perspectives and stakeholders' differing values in the MPA creation process was a significant barrier to the management efforts' success.

Similarly, Friedlander et al. (2003) hypothesized that the extensive inclusion of stakeholder input and knowledge in marine reserve design has a strong influence on marine conservation efforts' success in achieving conservation and social goals. Wieble, Sabatier, and Lubell (2004) researched two different approaches for establishing MPAs, one grounded in strict scientific criteria and one based on collaborative models, and found that preference for these approaches differs across disciplinary backgrounds and stakeholder identities.

Other research also clarifies the need for social science research on stakeholder attitudes towards MPA issues by finding that diversity of opinion exists both across and within stakeholder groups, as found in Salz and Loomis's work on recreation saltwater anglers' attitudes towards MPAs (Salz and Loomis, 2004). A striking conclusion in many of these works is that collaborative approaches must make every effort to be inclusive of diverse views, but should not result in the elimination of scientific knowledge and criteria. The findings of these research projects support the assertion that social dimensions of natural resource conservation must be understood for marine resource management plans to be successfully implemented, and clarify that there is significant need for research on attitudes towards MPA issues in the New Hampshire region to inform multiple parties' work in this field. Accordingly, the interview protocol created for this research will include questions about perceptions of representation, attitudes towards the framing of issues in past public participation processes, and opinions about the effects of past involvement.

In addition to these works, there is also research focused specifically on the Gulf of Maine Region that is used to enhance the foundation of this research. The work of Samuel Brody (Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment) and others (Brody and Nicholson 1999, Brody 1998a, Brody 1998b, Brody 1998c, Brody 1996) has clearly established the need for consensus-based, participatory approaches to MPA design and management, with a high level of community involvement, and "strong lines of communication between managers, scientists, and marine users" in the Gulf of Maine region (Brody, 1996: 4). In the work "An Evaluation of the Establishment Processes for Marine Protected Areas in the Gulf of Maine: Understanding the Role of Community Involvement and Public Participation," Dr. Brody identifies key elements of successful public involvement efforts, and reviews several case studies of public involvement to support his identification of important parts of the process. The ideas have never been systematically examined in stakeholder focused research, and this project will build on these previous efforts by engaging in such an analysis.

A final section of the interview protocol will focus on stakeholders' perceptions of an important current MPA issue, the potential establishment of a national MPA system. Federal agencies have already held public meetings about the creation of such a system, but regional attitudes towards the establishment and beliefs about its impacts have not been examined. By including an analysis of these factors in the work the research will have both evaluative and future-oriented applications.

Previous research on Gulf of Maine issues, public participation, and MPA specific dynamics provides a firm foundation for the focus of inquiry in the proposed project. By combining these elements with queries on current issues, information can be collected that will be useful when designing future public participation efforts. In addition, the findings will enhance understandings of the attitudes stakeholders hold towards MPA related issues and processes. A significant strength of this research is that while other research projects have explored tangential aspects of these issues, no project has systematically examined their relevance to Jeffreys Ledge issues and NH stakeholders. This research is designed to address these issues, and as a result the findings from this research will have direct applicability to efforts to engage in future public participation efforts involving NH stakeholders.


Stakeholders are the primary data source in the project proposed, and because the concept of stakeholder is central to this project's organization it is important to clarify how and why the term was applied in this project. Since the 1970s natural resource managers have included a broad range of interest groups in planning and management activities. Underlying this process is a critical concept, the "stakeholder," loosely defined as any identifiable group that affects or is affected by management decisions. These groups typically have very varied perceptions of a resource, and Decker et al. (1996) identified three issues that confound agencies' ability to manage natural resources: 1) the diverse range of public interests, concerns, and uses of the resource; 2) the increasing public expectation for citizen participation in management decision making; and 3) the broadening view among managers about who are the beneficiaries of natural resource management. Identifying these factors clarifies that stakeholder involvement is an important part of any effort to work on environmental issues, including efforts to design environmental communications. Current approaches to resource management recognize and address these issues, and ecosystem management principles exemplify these efforts. Ecosystem management benefits from including social science data in analyses by 1) involving the public in the decision making process and 2) integrating diverse social considerations into the science of understanding ecosystems (Endter-Wada, 1998). A combination of literature reviews, informal interviews with individuals knowledgeable about NH fisheries issues, and expert opinions were used to identify stakeholders.

Stakeholder Interviews

Approximately twenty interviews will be conducted with stakeholders to facilitate the collection of data that can be used to analyze stakeholders' perceptions of past MPA related public involvement processes and their attitudes towards current issues. Informal interviews with experts in MPA issues in the Gulf of Maine/Jeffreys Ledge area and reviews of available documents were used to identify stakeholders.

The Research Method: In-depth Interviews

The research project proposed uses in-depth interviews with stakeholders as the primary means of data collection. Participants will be purposefully selected, and snowball sampling will be used to further identify participants from stakeholder groups. An estimated 20-25 interviews will be conducted in this project. Confidentiality in responses will be guaranteed, as respondents will be told that no testimony about groups or individuals will be linked to them personally in any report.

A semi-structured, open- ended protocol will be used to ensure that analysis of the set of interviews can be meaningfully conducted (Berg 1995; McCracken 1988). This data-gathering method uses predetermined open-ended questions to examine the research questions that guide this research, but the format also allows for unscheduled probes and digressions into unanticipated topics that arise in the course of the interview itself. The freedom to explore unforeseen areas of interest in subsequent interviews is especially important in a descriptive investigation, as these topics may generate significant analytical insights. Interviews will be recorded and notes will be taken in the course of the interviews, and the content will be inductively analyzed (Glaser and Strauss 1969) into conceptual categories and patterns that emerge from the data itself (Miles and Huberman 1984) and are relevant to the research questions used to create the interview protocol.