Putting sustainable fisheries on the map? Establishing no-take zones for North Sea plaice fisheries through MSC certification

Toonen, H.M.; Mol, A.P.J.


Spatial approaches gain importance in the governance of marine practices and their environmental impacts. Harmful effects of fishing gear on marine habitats is seen as a considerable spatial conflict that needs to be resolved. One of the most severe measures is the instalment of ‘no take zones’. In the certification programme of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) this measure is considered to be a last resort. MSC provides a telling example of ‘informational governance’, that is, a mode of environmental governance wherein information plays a centripetal but often also contested role. Such governing through information is different from conventional state-led decision-making processes. This paper assesses the way informational processes in MSC have affected the settlement of the spatial conflict between plaice fisheries and sensitive habitats in the North Sea. It concludes that information is a formative force in bringing about sustainable fisheries but leads to different outcomes even if the target species and fishing methods are very much alike. This is due to the (nationally) specific informational interactions between non-state actors, especially fishermen and environmental Non-Governmental Organizations. Even though information in marine governance should be science-based, other information (brought in by these actors) is extremely relevant in designing spatial measures.