Adaptive Governance: The Dynamics of Atlantic Fisheries Management sheds light on an important aspect of international environmental governance that has largely escaped the attention of analysts bent on understanding the roles that environmental and resource regimes play both in causing problems and in addressing issues that arise in a variety of settings. In the early years, students of environmental governance focused on processes of regime formation, seeking to explain why regimes form to address some problems but not others. Subsequent analyses have dealt with the effectiveness of regimes in altering behavior or solving problems. Now attention is shifting to a search for understanding the ways in which regimes change over time. Largely overlooked in research dealing with these issues are a series of questions regarding the ongoing management activities that consume the lion’s share of the time and energy of those involved with individual regimes as they go about the business of applying the provisions of these institutional arrangements to day-to-day concerns. How well do decision-making procedures work in addressing routine matters? Are there identifiable patterns in the results that flow from the use of these procedures on an ongoing basis? Can decisions about routine matters trigger processes that lead to major institutional changes? Can we identify the factors that account for variance in these terms?
Analysts have addressed questions of this sort in other issue areas. There are, for example, a number of studies that delve into such matters with regard to the operation of the World Trade Organization. However, sustained empirical studies of the day-to-day operation of environmental and resource regimes are few and scattered. Now, D. G. Webster has taken direct aim at this topic in the realm of international environmental governance. Grounding her work in an in-depth assessment of (p.xii) the operation of the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), she explores the selection of management measures pertaining to a number of highly migratory species—mainly tunas, swordfish, and marlins—that fall under the jurisdiction of this convention. A close examination reveals that there is considerable variance in the management measures that ICCAT has adopted both in dealing with different species and in dealing with the same species over time. What accounts for this variance across a universe of cases involving the management of highly migratory species that seem quite similar? This is the sort of challenge that warms the heart of researchers in the social sciences who are on the lookout for opportunities to conduct natural experiments. There is significant variance in the dependent variable. Yet many aspects of the relevant setting remain constant by virtue of the fact that they pertain to a single management regime that has not experienced any dramatic or watershed changes in its constitutive provisions since its formation in 1966.
Confronted with this puzzle, Webster goes to work to develop an explanatory framework capable of accounting for the observed variance in the selection of management measures across species and time. Because the voting members of this regime are states, she focuses on the behavior of states, treating them for the most part as unitary actors that have relatively well-defined interests regarding the management of highly migratory species. And because the regime focuses on the pursuit of maximum sustainable yields from harvested species, she concentrates on decisions pertaining to the setting of allowable harvest levels and related matters on a species-by-species basis. Those interested in the rise of ecosystem-based management as an alternative to maximum sustainable yield in framing issues of governance and intrigued by the growing role of various nonstate actors in environmental governance may be impatient with this concentrated effort to explain the behavior of the regime created under the terms of ICCAT. Nevertheless, this regime is representative of a sizable number of environmental governance systems now in operation. Whatever our preferences and hopes for the future, it is surely important to enhance our ability to explain outcomes under the conditions prevailing today.
To explain variance in the choice of management measures affecting highly migratory species, Webster develops what she calls a “vulnerability response framework.” This framework seeks to classify states interested in the harvest of specific species into categories (e.g., highly (p.xiii) vulnerable, gradually vulnerable, and so forth) based largely on considerations of economic flexibility and competitiveness. The resultant vulnerability matrix for each species provides a method for assessing the bargaining strength of the key players and a line of reasoning in which movements toward or away from strong management measures are expected to reflect the preferences of the player(s) with the greatest bargaining strength in the relevant arena. A series of chapters apply this framework to the selection of management measures for individual species under ICCAT’s jurisdiction with results that accord well with observed outcomes.
As Webster herself makes clear, this line of analysis has significant limitations. The engine that drives the model is in some ways underspecified. The categories differentiating among levels of vulnerability are hard to operationalize with regard to specific species. The number of cases is too small to support claims of a statistical nature. And since the management measures selected with regard to individual species are known at the outset, there is a danger that interpretations developed for specific cases will be adjusted—if only unintentionally—to generate the ‘‘right” answers. Still, Webster has taken a significant step forward in generating expectations about the selection of management measures, and she offers a number of helpful suggestions to those who may be interested in developing this mode of analysis further. As a point of departure for additional work in this field, this book has much to offer.
It is important to be clear about several larger limitations of this study as well. It is tempting to see links between the selection of management measures and the condition of various stocks of highly migratory species, and such links may well occur in individual cases. An analysis that focuses on variance (p.xiv) in the selection of management measures can detect pressures for significant changes in the status quo. However, it cannot provide unambiguous evidence regarding the role of a regime in maintaining species or stocks of individual species in a healthy condition. The range of biophysical and socioeconomic drivers operating simultaneously and likely to have some impact on the condition of a species is too great to allow us to identify precise links of this sort. Beyond this lies the question of generalizability. Webster’s account of the vulnerability response framework and its capacity to explain variance in the selection of management measures rests on a close encounter with a single regime. This is not a defect in the argument that she presents in this book. Still, it is pertinent to ask whether the analysis is capable of explaining variance in the selection of management measures in other fisheries management regimes and ultimately in a broader range of environmental and resource regimes operating at the international or transnational level today. This will be a challenge for those who find the vulnerability response framework attractive and wish to explore the extent to which it can be transported to other settings.
These observations about the limits of Webster’s argument are important, but they must not be allowed to obscure or diminish the significance of her achievements. Although the effort to explain variance in the day-to-day operations of environmental governance systems is clearly important, mainstream work in this field has largely ignored this matter. Webster rightly calls our attention to this fact and proceeds to develop an analytic tool capable of explaining this variance. Whatever its fate in the long run, her work constitutes a prominent contribution to our understanding of this important phenomenon. Analysts interested in this topic in the future will have to reckon with Webster’s contribution, whether they conclude that some alternative is needed or simply seek to flesh out the vulnerability response framework and to sharpen it for application to a range of specific cases. In either case, her work will have played a significant role in the ongoing effort to improve our understanding of environmental governance.
Oran R. Young
Santa Barbara, California