As climate change has driven dramatic alteration of Northern sea ice regimes, marine mammals have gained iconic status around the world, and are now frequently linked to the perils of a warming Arctic. A tension results between the demands of balancing policy consistent with national and international laws and norms, and the development of flexible, adaptive institutions suitable for managing resources in a time of rapid change. Whereas most wildlife policy focuses on biological information to inform policy strategy, we focus on the “human dimensions” of northern marine mammal management. Our research examines ways in which human relationships and modes of governance affect conservation success. As the Marine Mammal Commission has noted, standard analyses of risk to animal populations focused on direct sources of take are inadequate to address multi-causal, complex problems such as climate-induced habitat loss or increasing industrialization of the Arctic Ocean. Early Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) policy strategies that focused on the moratorium of take and the indigenous right to hunt marine mammals have eliminated practices such as commercialized hunting, and have limited direct impacts from development activities. However, current policies and rules may be less suitable for responding to rapid ecosystem changes and the need to promote local indigenous responsibilities through stewardship of their marine mammal subsistence resources. We argue that the resilience of marine mammal populations in the Arctic will only be fostered through adaptive policies, premised on new ways of learning about and governing human interactions with marine mammals. Recognizing the limited capacity of agencies to implement effective top-down policies in the remote Arctic, we focus on better understanding how actors at the local scale may be given the incentives and flexibility to direct the creation of rules that are ecologically robust and likely to succeed.
System Type: Coastal,Continental shelf waters,Open ocean
Contact: Martin Robards
Collaborators: Chanda Meek
Organization: Simon Fraser University
Collaboratoring Institutions: University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Project Dates: Ongoing since 2005
Keywords: marine mammal, indigenous, governance, co-management, rights