From roundtables to virtual reality: effectively engaging Blue Economy stakeholders
16 03 2022

“Seaweed Farmers Coffee Break”, Zanzibar. Riccardo Maria Mantero, Flickr

By Belinda Bramley, NLAI Associate.

As many ocean advocates across the world suggest, it is vital to involve as many stakeholders as possible in establishing and then implementing a Blue Economy approach. As we propose in our Blue Economy in Practice paper, a holistic approach “includes all sectors of society in planning for ocean activities and balances the needs of different constituencies to equitably share in the benefits of the ocean, a global commons.” But what does that mean in practice? How do you go about it successfully? And who are the stakeholders that need to be included?

A stakeholder is anyone who is affected by decisions relating to a resource and in the case of ocean resources, stakeholders are numerous and come from very diverse constituencies. Identifying and engaging stakeholders is a core activity in the formulation of Blue Economy and marine spatial planning (MSP), helping ensure that plans represent the needs of local people as far as possible, whilst balancing competing priorities for the use of increasingly busy seaspaces in an open, fair and negotiated way. Getting the right balance of stakeholder engagement is crucial for effective and efficient long-term policy-making. As we shall see, governments and local authorities are approaching this key area of ocean and MSP governance in diverse ways.

Fostering partnerships

Nigeria’s Vice President, for example, recently called for wider stakeholder participation in the development of the country’s Blue Economy initiative, including financial institutions such as the Central Bank of Nigeria and the African Development Bank, to deepen the participation and benefits of Nigerians from the country’s marine resources. He also urged all government ministries, departments and agencies to strengthen their collaborations through inter-ministerial working groups. The creation of a Ministry of the Blue Economy was also suggested by the Commandant of the Nigerian Navy Hydrographic School at a Nigeria Blue Economy Stakeholders Conference, to drive coordinated activities and ensure the national Blue Economy attains its full potential. Following on from this three-day conference last month, representatives from the public and private sectors volunteered for a transition taskforce which will reach out to other actors in public and private sectors, to maintain momentum and broaden Blue Economy participation.

Last year the Executive Director of the Tanzania Women Chamber of Commerce, an organisation serving over 6,000 women-led businesses and entrepreneurs including those working in fisheries and seaweed value chains in both Tanzania and Zanzibar, noted the need for partnerships that expand the capacity of women to benefit more from Blue Economy opportunities. Seaweed is a major cash crop for Zanzibar and 80% of seaweed farmers are women. To address the overlooked and undervalued contribution of women in fisheries and aquaculture, she called for greater access to finance for women, to buy equipment and expand market opportunities. Zanzibar’s Blue Economy policy seeks to explicitly empower local communities, especially women and youth involved in Blue Economy activities, and Zanzibar’s President pledged to prioritise the needs of women when he became the first African leader to join the UN Women HeForShe Alliance in November. True to his word, the President called on the Tanzania Commercial Bank to work with the government to remove barriers to lending and increase lending to women. This has been supported in the local press with a call for providing essential financial education for women. The Bank is hosting a series of Business Fora for Women in Zanzibar focusing on the key role of women in activating Blue Economy opportunities.

In October the Vietnam Administration of Sea and Islands (VASI) at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment convened a workshop on the building of a Blue Economy partnership group, with national and international representatives from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, UNDP, Korea International Cooperation Agency, IUCN and WWF. Participants discussed a report compiled by VASI and UNDP which compared “business-as-usual” and “blue” scenarios to 2030 for each of six key marine sectors, based on particular reforms and interventions. The scenarios demonstrated the benefits of a long-term programme which maintains and enhances the quality of marine resources and strengthens human capacity for marine economic activities. The Deputy Director General of VASI noted the Blue Economy partnership group would mobilise the participation of stakeholders for the “efficient management and sustainable development of Vietnamʼs maritime economy”.

Last year the Canadian government created a Blue Economy strategy engagement plan and consulted over the ensuing five months with representatives from industry, environmental and social justice organisations, academia, indigenous peoples and the general public. This month the government shared its engagement results. Stakeholder engagement sessions were hosted not only by government but also by other academic and civil society alliances and institutions. Overall 40 roundtables were held, 466 surveys were completed, 125 written submissions were made, and more than 1,600 Canadians participated, of whom 233 were from indigenous peoples. By publishing “what we heard” the government is demonstrating a commitment to transparency and accountability, commenting that “meaningful engagement is imperative for the development of a Blue Economy strategy”.

Source: Engaging on Canada’s Blue Economy Strategy – What we heard

The special case of fishers

Our Blue Economy In Practice report notes that “the greatest community of ocean users by far are the 39 million fishers around the globe, the great majority of whom are smallscale fishers (FAO 2020). In employment numbers they outweigh industrial fisheries (Teh 2013), oil and gas, shipping, and tourism combined (Smith H. 2019) and 50% of workers are estimated to be women, when postharvest activities are included (FAO 2020). Many of these people remain amongst the poorest in society and their livelihoods are threatened by over-extraction and climate change (Lam 2020)[i].” Smallscale fishers account for half of the global marine catch, almost all of which is consumed locally, often underpinning local food and nutritional security.

Rebuilding fish to healthy, abundant levels must be central to any Blue Economy strategy, for our oceans and for all the people that rely on them” remarked the Executive Director of Oceana Canada, as he urged Canadians to support a petition to prioritize restoring healthy populations of fish ahead of the government’s Blue Economy Strategy submission deadline last year.

In practice, proactive engagement with fishing communities by governments is patchy. Concerns have been raised in India, for example, about the lack of harmonisation and consultation in the country’s Blue Economy approach. The former head of the Pelagic Division of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, a Fishers Union Leader and Member of Parliament have all criticised the government for not allowing enough time for the public to comment on the country’s draft Blue Economy policy, which “raised grave concerns about the future of the fishing community.”

Last year fishermen in Belize complained when a new law which was designed to increase inclusion, but which they perceived would put them at a disadvantage, was passed, they said, without their knowledge or consultation. By comparison at around the same time, the Barbados Ministry of Blue Economy invited all parties involved in the country’s fisheries sector to review new draft Fisheries Management Regulations and consult directly with the Minister and Chief Fisheries Officer via an online meeting.

In January the UK Government, Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland launched a public consultation on the Joint Fisheries Statement, which sets out proposed policies to protect and recover fish stocks; reduce the impacts of fishing on the marine and coastal environment; and support a modern, resilient, and environmentally responsible fishing industry. The Statement includes a section on participatory decision-making, which commits to strengthening co-management of fisheries; promoting inclusivity and involvement in  management across all parts of society and encourages the early participation of stakeholders. The public consultation runs for three months and invites comments from industry and environmental stakeholders, the public and all those interested and affected by the proposed policies. Information sessions to support stakeholders respond effectively are also provided.

Similarly in Tasmania the government is encouraging all stakeholders to engage in the development of a ten-year salmon aquaculture plan, starting with targeted consultation, followed by a public call for submissions and regional public meetings in June and October. Last year its Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment recruited an Aboriginal Fisheries Officer to its marine resources team, to help design its management strategies and to help engage Aboriginal fishers in those processes.

Fishers are uniquely well placed to propose and inform measures for long-term sustainable fisheries management, in a way that policy officials serving short electoral terms may not be. The Ghana Tuna Association presented a statement to the country’s Parliament last year stressing that the fisheries and aquaculture sector needed a Minister with in-depth knowledge of the industry, given the global nature of fisheries and other national Blue Economy sectors and considerations. The Association’s President remarked that “as stakeholders we need to raise the red flags…to protect our industry and businesses from decisions that are likely to impact negatively and further collapse the sector.”

Artisanal fishermen in Chile are calling on their government to create a Minister of the Sea and to ban trawling. As stewards of the marine environment, local fishers are best equipped to sustainably manage their seaspace and local fisher-led management has proved to be effective in Seychelles, for example, where the community management principle has since been extended to a regional coastal marine area, with community members participating in the management of protected areas. The key role of local, grassroots initiatives that increase community trust and promote local stewardship of oceans and coasts is also highlighted in a ten-year strategy for Australia’s Blue Economy.

Targeting stakeholder inclusion

In some instances, targeting specific communities to ensure their views are heard and reflected in plans is the most appropriate course of action. For instance in the British Virgin Islands meetings were recently held with farmers, fisherfolk, financial services, teams from ministries, tourism stakeholders, private sector officials, and civil society organisations to incorporate their views in the country’s National Sustainable Development Plan, which envisions “a well-balanced, people-centred Virgin Islands built on spirituality, social justice and equality; nurtured by trust, cultural knowledge and participatory governance; strengthened by economic, environmental, and social sustainability.”

New Zealand’s government is supporting an initiative to promote and integrate traditional Māori knowledge of the ocean, currents and winds, and marine life as an important complement and counterpoint to scientific knowledge, by brokering mutually beneficial projects between stakeholders working on aspects of oceanography and ocean knowledge governance.

In California, hyper-realistic virtual reality (VR) simulations of sea-level rise were developed by coastal management authorities with input from the local community, to enable local stakeholders to envisage what the future may hold and engage meaningfully in discussions about climate change-related risk and options for adapting to sea-level rise, including controversial topics such as managed retreat. Inclusion of local team members proved to be a critical success factor in these pilot studies, which found that more people engaged with sea-level rise planning than using traditional processes; that VR displays significantly increased individuals’ awareness of sea-level rise and that new conversations were sparked.

Source: MSP Global – Public Participation in Marine Policy Development


As we note in our report, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to stakeholder engagement because geographic and cultural differences exist in opportunities to manage and develop the marine space and in the way that communities engage with their marine space. Different approaches to stakeholder engagement should be considered to ensure that the needs and demands of a wide variety of stakeholders are captured, and as IOC UNESCO notes engagement  strategies  and  communication  plans  can  guide  a  more  effective  and  successful  participation of various stakeholders. Early and sustained engagement and relationship-building creates trust. New technologies and approaches can open communication channels between different stakeholder constituencies and provide a shared understanding from which to build a balanced consensus. Listening to the voices of traditional stewards of the marine environment is crucial for ensuring Blue Economy approaches are guided by deep and intimate knowledge of local environments that cannot be captured by traditional science approaches alone.

2022 has been proclaimed as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture. Its vision is to “enable small-scale artisanal fishers, fishfarmers and fishworkers and their organisations to engage as equal partners in all relevant decision-making processes. This includes working with legislators and government agencies in the formulation and adoption of laws, regulations, policies, strategies, programs and projects.”

Whether initiated top-down by government ministries and MSP authorities or bottom-up by fisher organisations, industry and academic alliances and civil society, let us hope for many more inspiring examples of open and constructive dialogue, promotion of hitherto marginalised interests and ultimately balanced decision-making in the years ahead

[i] Please see Blue Economy in Practice – Raising Lives and Livelihoods for full journal references.

To receive future editions of Blue Economy Pulse, just click 'Follow' on the series' dedicated  LinkedIn Showcase Page. 

Subscribe to PULSE newsletter
Follow Pulse on LinkedIn
Latest news
© Copyright - NLA International Ltd