Resilience of marine mammal subsistence systems in an era of rapid social and climatic change

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.

Project Goals

1. Establish regional policy solutions that accomplish both indigenous and marine mammal policy requirements
2. Facilitate co-management activities through education and capacity building
3. Work with communities to understand how to facilitate local stewardship

Project Outcomes

Meek CL, AL Lovecraft, M Dowsley, R Varjopuro, and AT Dale. 2011. Adaptive governance and the human dimensions of marine mammal management: implications for policy in a changing North. Marine Policy 35(4): 466-476.

Meek CL. 2011. Putting the U.S. polar bear debate in context: the disconnect between old policy and new problems. Marine Policy 35(4): 430-439.

Lovecraft AL and CL Meek. 2011. Introduction to a special section of the human dimensions of Northern marine mammal management in a time of rapid change. Marine Policy 35(4): 427-429.

Robards, M.D., and A.L. Lovecraft. 2010. Evaluating Comanagement for Social-Ecological Fit: Indigenous Priorities and Agency Mandates for Pacific Walrus. Policy Studies Journal 38(2): 257-279.

Joly, J., J. Reynolds, and M.D. Robards. 2010. Recognizing when the “best scientific data available” isn’t. Stanford Environmental Law Journal 29: 247-282.

Robards, M.D., J.J. Burns, C.L. Meek, and A. Watson. 2009. Limitations of the Optimum Sustainable Population or Potential Biological Removal approaches for conservation management of marine mammals: Pacific walrus case study. Journal of Environmental Management 91: 57-66.

Meek, C., A. Lovecraft, M. Robards, and G. Kofinas. 2008. Building resilience through interlocal relations: case studies of walrus and polar bear management in the Bering Strait. Marine Policy 32(6): 1080-1089.

Robards, M. and J. Joly. 2008. Interpretation of ‘wasteful manner’ within the Marine Mammal Protection Act and its role in management of the Pacific walrus. Ocean and Coastal Law Journal 13(2): 171-232.

Metcalf, V. and M.D. Robards. 2008. Sustaining a healthy human-walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) relationship in a dynamic environment: challenges for co-management. Ecological Applications. 18(2): S148-S156.

Status Updates

Project Image

Location: Alaska

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