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     "The Problem of Fit between Ecosystems and Governance Systems:
 Insights and Emerging Challenges" by Galaz, Olsson, Hahn, Folke, Svedin

                                      Fikret Berkes
                             University of Manitoba, Canada
                                  November 30, 2006

The idea of fit, that is, creating institutions that are well matched to the relevant
biophysical systems, has been central to the work of IDGEC. The intent of this discussion
note is to comment on the chapter by Galaz and colleagues, and raise additional points
that may be important in this context. I am going to focus on the temporal dimension of
the problem of fit, specifically the question of timeliness of response.

Galaz and colleagues deal with the time dimension of ecosystem – governance system
lack of fit under the general heading, temporal type of misfit (Table 3). They focus on the
speed of response issue under the topic, cascading effects, and the ability of governance
systems to deal with events that trigger crisis in multiple domains (page 19-20 and Table
3). As used by Kinzig et al. (2006), a cascading effect is one in which multiple thresholds
across scales of space, time, and social organization and across ecological, social, and
economic domains may be breached. Galaz and colleagues note, “major drivers of change
(e.g., climate change, continued decline in ecosystem services, changes in the dynamics
of the earth system) will trigger surprises at spatial and time scales that might go
considerably beyond the problem solving capacity of existing governance systems” (p.
20). They conclude that “cascading effects pose a serious governance challenge due to
the critical lack of time to respond, and their spatial and cross-system character” (p. 26).

Given that the chapter makes an excellent argument that social and ecological systems
are not merely linked but interconnected (p. 2), it would seem that all large social and
environmental problems potentially have cascading effects. In fact, I am having difficulty
finding an example where a major change (e.g, climate change, biodiversity loss, coastal
marine resource depletion) does not have the potential to cause shifts in multiple domains
in the seemingly stable states that we see around us. As these changes might trigger the
collapse of one state and its replacement by another, or a regime shift (Scheffer et al.
2001), repercussions of such regime shifts will be felt not only in the ecological but also
in the social and economic domains (Abel et al. 2006).

Avoiding such regime shifts is a major task for “Institutions for Sustainable Development
in the Face of Global Environmental Change”. And our topic, "The Problem of Fit
between Ecosystems and Governance Systems”, is one of the ways in which the issue
may be analyzed. Galaz and colleagues raise the stakes by bringing regime shifts,
cascading effects, and multiple domains into the picture, and ask if such shifts and

surprises might go considerably beyond the capacity of existing governance systems to
deal with them. Here I comment on the capacity of governance systems to respond to
rapid change in a timely way. I will focus on an example in which I have first-hand
experience to expand on the points of Galaz and colleagues, and to raise some additional
points. The example is the sequential exploitation of marine resources caused by “roving
bandits” (Berkes et al. 2006), a case also used by Galaz and colleagues (p. 4, 24)

The term roving bandit originally comes from the economist Mancur Olson, and here
refers to mobile fleets and mobile buyers that move around the globe, exploiting
resources in response to market opportunities. Olson argued that local governance creates
a vested interest in the maintenance of local resources, whereas the ability of mobile
agents to move on to other resources severs local feedback and the incentive to build
conserving institutions. Distant water fleets and mobile traders for marine products often
operate like roving bandits because global markets no not generate the self-interest that
arises from attachment to place.

The effect of roving bandits is a special case of the “tragedy of the commons,” whereby a
freely accessible (or open-access) resource is competitively depleted. Harvesters have no
incentive to conserve; whatever they do not take will be harvested by others. The
classical tragedy of the commons was about local commons used by local communities;
current commons theory takes into account drivers and multi-level institutions (Dietz et
al. 2003). Nevertheless, the theory is in need of further development with respect to the
timeliness of response to commons exploitation in the face of global change. A new
dynamic has arisen in the globalized world. The speed of market development often
outstrips the ability of national or international institutions to deal with it. In the case of
small or highly localized stocks, the resource may vanish even before the problem is
noted. In the case of more widely distributed, relatively abundant species, serial depletion
of local stocks may be masked by spatial shifts in exploitation, as we have documented
with respect to sea urchins and sushi markets (Berkes et al. 2006).

The sea urchin case illustrates that the spatial expansion of harvests by waves of
exploitation around the globe may be accompanied by the sequential depletion of stocks.
The spatial expansion masks local depletions, a common characteristic of sequential
exploitation. In the sea urchin case, the global harvest peaked in about 1990 following a
series of expansions of the fishery into new regions, but declined after that because there
were no frontiers left into which to expand the fishery.

The action of roving bandits has both ecological and social implications. Depletions of
species that have major roles in the ecosystem create ecological risks. The resulting
simplification of food webs and loss of biodiversity erode the resilience of marine
ecosystems and increase their vulnerability to regime shifts (Hughes et al. 2003). On the
social side, quick profits in emerging markets for the few can destroy the long-term
livelihoods for many in resource-dependent areas. What can be done about it?

It would seem that roving bandits cannot be prevented in an era of trade liberalization,
and no single approach can solve problems emerging from their actions. However, a

diversity of approaches used together can slow down roving bandits: reforming markets,
using the precautionary principle, establishing property rights, and building multi-level
institutions form local to global that can learn from experience (Berkes et al. 2006).
Learning institutions is also a major item for Galaz and colleagues. But the solutions need
to address the major issue highlighted by the case – the rapid rate of market development,
as compared to institutional development. To re-state the problem of fit, how do we
create institutions that are well matched to the speed at which globalized market demands
and the resultant waves of resource exploitation emerge?

The sea urchin case offers a number of considerations that could strengthen the analysis
of Galaz and colleagues:
    - The key to timely response to roving bandits and other rapid change agents is to
       tighten the feedback loops between observation and response (Levin 1999), that
       is, the ability to observe and communicate changes as fast as they occur;
    - Local resource users whose livelihoods may be impacted are also the people most
       knowledgeable about the area and who can detect environmental change;
    - As the costs of resource depletion are borne mainly by the local people,
       governance that strengthens community-based resource rights will facilitate
       tightening the feedback loops;
    - Monitoring of foreign direct investments, vessel flag history and ownership, and
       buyers are needed to improve the ability to track potential roving bandits;
    - Global, regional, and national bodies need to monitor trade and resource trends
       and find ways to disseminate information that stimulates problem solving
       consistent with local practices; and
    - Linkages are necessary so that institutions can learn, not only from their own
       experiences, but from experiences elsewhere.

These considerations suggest three conclusions.

First, monitoring is crucial as an integral step in governance, but this point receives little
attention from Galaz and colleagues. For resource management institutions be effective in
the face of rapid pace of global change, there has to be a mechanism by which change is
detected, recognized, followed up, and acted upon. This process starts by monitoring. In
the sea urchin case, monitoring is needed at multiple levels. That the local level is crucial
can be seen in a range of contexts. For example, it was the Swedish monitoring system
that first detected atmospheric radioactivity from Chernobyl as the cloud was passing
over Sweden. In another example, aboriginal residents of the Arctic started complaining
in the 1970s about atmospheric haze; science finally investigated it and found it in the
early 1980s to be due to sulphate aerosols from industrial activity (Schindler and Smol
2006). In the case of the Canadian Arctic, we are finding that the environmental
monitoring by indigenous peoples, often in ways that may be foreign to scientific
thinking, is providing early warning signs on a range of issues from climate change to
contaminants (Berkes et al. 2005).

Second, a wide range of knowledge needs to be used in monitoring change and bringing
institutional solutions to bear on the problem. With many of the major environmental

issues of our time, expert-knows-best science is often inadequate for the task, requiring
instead a process of deliberation that involves civil society participation (Stern 2005).
There is a good reason why local knowledge is so powerful. Local manifestations of
global changes are detected first by people who have a detailed knowledge of their
environment. They are in the best position to read signals from the environment because
they are there; there is tight feedback loop between observation and response. In the
Canadian Arctic, for example, indigenous people are detecting abnormalities in the
animals that they are hunting, and using their local observations to assess whether the
animals were good to eat. Such local monitoring seems to rely on the use of a suite of
qualitative indicators, including the kinds of fat on the animals, consistency and taste of
meat, and behavioural abnormalities of the animal. They are different from, but
complementary to, quantitative indictors used by science.

Third, governance of global change is intimately connected to the issue of who has use
rights and ownership of resources, the commons problem. Roving bandits operate best
under open-access conditions and rely on their ability for rapid exploitation before local
authorities can act. In response to the roving bandits analysis, Scales et al. (2006) offered
the example of the live reef fish trade (LRFT) supplying luxury seafood restaurants in
places such as Hong Kong. The authors point out that the geographical expansion of
harvests by waves of boom-and-bust exploitation has led Pacific island states to start to
introduce small-scale trial fisheries and LRFT management plans along the edge of the
expanding wave. The response seems to be at two levels, the state and the Secretariat of
the Pacific Community (SPC), a regional body. However, knowing that many island
nations of the Pacific have strong traditions of community-based reef and lagoon
management, success against roving bandits is probably building on local stewardship
traditions that create incentives for local conservation.

The examples considered here support the main points of Galaz and colleagues that
global change problems must be addressed at many levels, requiring multi-level
governance institutions from the local to the international. The speed of response issue
seems to be important in its own right; it need not be tied to cascading effects, as done by
Galaz and colleagues. The examples further indicate that the issues of monitoring,
knowledge and local resource rights are integral to governance. What is important is not
the structure of institutions but their interactions and ability to respond and learn. In the
case of roving bandits and perhaps other cases involving rapid change, learning
institutions need to be able to learn from experiences elsewhere – because their own
learning may be too late. To do so requires many linkages, not only the vertical ones that
connect the levels but also the horizontal ones that connect geographically.


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