Arctic Marine Resource Governance: Interview with Dr Brooks Kaiser

By Lana Ollier

Lana Ollier

Lana Ollier, Fellow at Polar Research and Policy Initiative, speaks to Dr Brooks Kaiser, the Head of the Fisheries Unit at Polar Research and Policy Initiative, about her recently-published book Arctic Marine Resource Governance and Development, her work as an interdisciplinary researcher and her interest in the Arctic. Dr Kaiser talked to us about the current and future challenges of Arctic Marine Governance, and how she, together with her colleagues, approaches this important question in the book by focusing on the human dimension in Arctic Marine Governance.

Tell our readers briefly who you are and what you do?

I am an economic historian and a professor at the University of Southern Denmark, where I teach courses in environmental and natural resources management. My research is mainly concerned with human issues in the Arctic and other marginalised communities. For instance, I have done a lot of work on Hawaii, deterioration of natural capital through e.g. invasive species there, as well as the positive transformation of natural capital to other forms of capital over time in that region.

You take an interdisciplinary approach to your research. Could you tell us a little bit more about your philosophy behind that?

Economics is a framework and a way of thinking about how people make decisions, but in order to understand what they are making decisions about, and their motivations behind taking certain decisions, one ought to know more history and science. Having this additional insight allows us to consider the trade-offs involved in every decision and, probably even more importantly, upon which assumptions those trade-offs rest. Let me give you an example. Whaling Inuit, centuries ago, might have thought that there would always be a supply of whales and that a whale shortage would be extremely unlikely, because historically there has never been one and the human hunting pressures were always low. So, when all of a sudden, exogenous ships from foreign powers showed up and started hunting whales, the Inuit did not have a decision-making framework to try and claim property rights to the whales or might have not even seen the necessity to do so – and rapidly, part of their livelihood vanished.

How did you first become interested in conducting research on the economic development of marginalised communities?

Maybe marginalised is not quite the right word. Today, the communities might be marginalised, but that, of course, hasn’t always been the case. But today, they are certainly less integrated into global events. Initially, a lot of the work I had done was on Hawaii, because it is a place where human contact has been fairly limited and fairly well documented. This documentation, although oral for the first 600-700 years, gave us a pretty good idea of who came when and what they brought with themselves, and how ecosystems and governance changed as a result of that.

For instance, human contact brought the first land mammals, and this changed the capabilities for fresh water production and food production. The first European contact introduced more animals, but also more tools and weapons. Before this contact, the Indigenous people were simply not able to develop  a very wide set of tools because there was not a lot of metal. Consequently, they had all their resources invested in extracting natural resources and in taming the water for irrigation using stone and bone. Western contact also brought guns, and through military power, unification amongst the islands was reached. The Hawaiians slowly evolved into a Kingdom that traded with the Europeans. Through a variety of pressures for land, water, and trading rights, eventually the island evolved to a constitutional monarchy. And at this point, France, the UK and Germany wanted to annex Hawaii, but they went into partnership with the US over sugar production, and sugar production continued to structure society. This example highlights the ways in which economic activity and natural resources structure society.

So how did that lead to your interest in the Arctic?

I think the problems are very similar. You have communities that were fairly isolated for a long time. Southern (European and American) contact changed things dramatically and rapidly, although the way in which it filtered through was very different from Hawaii. The original question that led me to conduct research in Hawaii as well as the Arctic was what we should do about particular new invasive species. In Hawaii, I was looking at a tree, a snake and a frog that were each of great concern. In trying to understand the problem, I realised that you couldn’t actually solve those problems without considering the bigger picture. And by that, I mean gaining an understanding not just about what the ecosystem is producing as a whole, but also how governance decisions affect those systems. In the Arctic, our research has been mainly concerned with invasive crabs in the Barents Sea – the red king and the snow crabs. So when you think about the invasions of those crabs, you need to consider institutional arrangements for fishing communities, governance approaches and the science behind invasive species. In the Barents Sea, this is particularly relevant, because the crabs are so profitable. This makes it hard for Russian and Norwegian policy-makers to urge for stronger control of those populations that would reduce their numbers (and damages) – simply because they are worth so much.

In a couple of sentences what is ‘Arctic Marine Resource Governance and Development’ about?

It is about change in the Arctic. It is about the ecological change and geophysical change that scientists have talked about for 40 years, but that is rarely considered from a human dimension. So this book is trying to add the human dimension to the debate by considering how communities are going to have to evolve and change based on insights from political economy.

How did you and your co-editors develop the idea of editing this book?

The foundation of the book was an interdisciplinary conference. We organised the conference around four main points: global management of resources, resource users and stewards, local and indigenous co-management and governance gaps in Arctic marine management, and, finally, multi-scale ecosystem-based Arctic Marine Resource Management. For those issues, we tried to understand the links between ecology, economy and governance. The presentations at the conference dealt with a range of issues across different industries at various scales. So we had small scale, very local case studies, like the Labrador Inuit Torngat fisheries governance, regional stories on how governance has improved to include some co-management in some regions, and also issues at the biggest scale, like the increasing economic interest of China in the Arctic or the opening up of the central Arctic ocean for fishing.

How do you define Arctic Marine Resources in your book?

Our focus lies on living marine resources: this includes fisheries and mammals, but in this book we also consider tourism and development for human communities. We explicitly do not focus on gas and oil development, although we have one chapter talking about an increasing use of less damaging fossil fuels like LNG in the Arctic and trade offs involved in such a decision.

Who is this book aimed at?

Arctic academics from across the sciences and humanities and policymakers or representatives of international organisations who are interested in the marine governance challenges we are facing in the Arctic – given that you have these eight nation states, different Indigenous communities, and everyone having different resource bases and goals in how to use them. While you have governance innovations like the Arctic Council, it does not necessarily have the teeth to promote very effective high-level multinational governance. But the book is also addressed to any person who wants to understand how difficult Arctic Governance and development is and how difficult it will continue to be. This also includes practitioners – for example, those who use, invest in, and/or manage Arctic ports.

Do we need new approaches to Arctic Marine Resource Governance, and how far can we build on already existing forms of governance in light of a changing Arctic?

We need different forms of cooperation at different scales. At a smaller scale, co-management approaches for living marine resources – in particular, with input from stakeholders – have proven to be very successful. I think, in the end, co-management in the Arctic is able to create a lot of templates of how we can do better governance. In particular, consultation of stakeholders has proven to very important – even at the highest level of international cooperation. The failure to not include stakeholders has caused some trouble for the International Whaling Commission in the past, but they are now taking a better approach in being more appreciative of stakeholders’ input at the local and regional level. In the end, it remains a learning process – but the Arctic is a good place to start such a process for multiple reasons. One reason is that you already have institutions like the ICC and the Arctic Council, where some more balanced but also competitive visions of the world come together. Moreover, at the national level, the Arctic states are relatively rich, which is generally an advantage in trying to figure out how to move forward. Distributional issues are, however, challenging and again tie into who has the rights to, and who does, exploit the resource base and ecological systems.

What role can international regimes like the Arctic Council play in tackling those issues?

The Arctic Council is definitely a good forum to tackle some of the challenges considered in the book, and it might even be an important step in promoting those new governance forms that we need. But we are also facing challenges within the Arctic Council. One problem is that the Working Groups are relatively isolated and, thus, it is difficult to cooperate across issue areas. In our book, we argue that the Council needs more communication between the six Working Groups, and we believe that an economic framework is a really good way to do that. So, we would like to see more interdisciplinary work and communication between the Working Groups, but unfortunately that is not the way they have been encouraged to work over the last 20 years. The other problem is, of course, that the Arctic Council has no means of enforcing its decisions, unless they can be further codified into formal international agreements. So, we would like to see a willingness to let the Arctic Council have some teeth – which is, of course, politically very challenging. 

What is the gap that this book attempts to fill?

The book does a good job in pointing out where the gaps lie and why they exist, which is the first step towards fixing them. We are trying to inform where the pitfalls are going to be and even explore possibilities to avoid them further. We do this, for example, by putting forward best practice cases like the Torngap joint fisheries and the way in which the Central Arctic Ocean Group has now evolved into the ‘five plus five group’, recognising the reality that other states are going to be important players in this region as well. There are many scientific uncertainties and failures that should not make us believe that we have solved the problems, but rather show where the risks are and how we might address them differently.

What did you learn in editing this book and what surprised you the most?

The process of transforming the conference presentations into the final chapters was really interesting for me personally. You really see in an interdisciplinary context how different disciplines evolve very differently from presentation to a final product and the way in which their thinking and writing process evolves very differently. Economists like to have a model and a flow from how things should go in theory to how they go in reality, whereas others might start from a map of stakeholders and how they interact with each other, and scientists want to showcase what they know about a species or a technology, and structure their process according to that. It is very interesting to pull all of those different contributions together and choose the right order of chapters so as to create a flow.

You can order your copy of Arctic Marine Resource Governance and Development (Springer, 2018), co-edited by Niels Vestergaard, Brooks Kaiser, Linda Fernandez and Joan Nymand Larsen, via the following link:

Lana Ollier is a Fellow in the Geopolitics and Security Unit at Polar Research and Policy Initiative and leads its interview series ‘Polar Matters’. She holds a MSc in Environmental Policy and Regulation from the London School of Economics and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the Freie Universität of Berlin.