MLMA Master Plan 4. Stakeholder Engagement

Engaging stakeholders in the management process is a central theme of the MLMA and can be a critical factor to the long-term success of any management strategy. Effective stakeholder engagement is important to help ensure that stakeholders with relevant local knowledge, and who are most likely to be directly affected by regulatory changes, are provided the opportunity to be involved in the management process. By adhering to core stakeholder engagement principles, the Department and stakeholders can build trust, create resilient relationships, and increase buy-in for—and ultimately compliance(opens in new tab) with—marine resource management decisions. Best practices and considerations associated with the use of various engagement strategies are drawn from an overview of stakeholder engagement strategies developed to inform the Master Plan amendment process (Kearns & West and Center for Ocean Solutions 2017).

Requirements related to stakeholder engagement

In addition to the policies of the MLMA, the Department and Commission are subject to a variety of other procedural and public participation mandates designed to inform and protect the public’s interests. These include the CEQA, APA, and Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. Among their other provisions, these Acts define a minimum level of stakeholder engagement, primarily focused on advanced notice of public hearings and the process for providing public comment. The MLMA builds on the foundation created by these requirements by directing the Department to engage with stakeholders throughout the decision-making process. Section 7059 places significant emphasis on the importance of collaboration and directs the Department to involve interested parties when developing FMPs, status reports, and research plans. It also states that the Department shall periodically review fishery management efforts with the goal to improve communication, collaboration, and dispute resolution, and should seek advice from interested parties as part of the review.

Key stakeholder engagement principles and guidance

Five overarching principles should be integrated into any stakeholder engagement strategy under the MLMA (Kearns & West and Center for Ocean Solutions 2017):

  1. Engage early and often.
  2. Set clear goals.
  3. Build relationships.
  4. Ensure openness.
  5. Pursue inclusivity.

The Department will draw on these key principles when selecting and implementing stakeholder engagement strategies. Table 1 provides details on each principle and guidance for application. Every outreach strategy will involve trade-offs. The challenge is to select the most appropriate approach given engagement goals and timing, stakeholder audiences, and available resources.

Table P1. Overview of the level of capacity needed for stakeholder groups to effectively partner with the Department to accomplish particular management tasks (adapted from Wilson et al. 2016). The three attributes (representativeness, funding, and longevity) reflect a prospective partner’s capacity.
Principle Description Why implement? Guidance to implement in practice
Engage early and often Engaging stakeholders early and often identifies the boundaries of stakeholder values and preferences around management issues and strives to ensure that management alternatives remain in the public interest. Early public involvement can reduce delays in the approval process and the likelihood of issues becoming contentious. Engaging stakeholders early can also nurture trust, expand management options, improve communication, improve process efficiency, enable conflict management, and increase representation. Involve stakeholders in defining the management problem; decision-making reflects the interests and concerns of stakeholders at that time.

Involve stakeholders before management alternatives are identified and solidified to ensure all viable options are on the table.

Use consistent mechanisms for updating and engaging stakeholders in the decision-making process (e.g., town hall meetings, website is updated regularly).

Employ engagement strategies over a time frame during which stakeholders can feasibly influence the management decision (e.g., stakeholders are contacted 1-2 months ahead of an engagement opportunity that will inform decision-making; stakeholders are engaged before management decisions are made).
Set clear goals Setting goals helps ensure that managers and stakeholders work towards a common endpoint. Clear goals, roles, and responsibilities for stakeholder engagement, particularly when established in collaboration with stakeholders, improve clarity around decision-making expectations and opportunities for public participation. Involve stakeholders in identifying clear long- and short-term planning and agency management goals (measurable, achievable, and specific).

Have clear goals for stakeholder engagement (e.g., goals based on this checklist).

Employ metrics to determine the efficacy of stakeholder engagement and adapt strategies over time based on this evaluation.
Build relationships Building key relationships can strengthen trust by putting a human face to management actions, connecting agency staff to communities through key communicators, and increasing understanding between managers and stakeholders. Relationships and agency visibility contribute to public acceptance and allow timely response to pressing stakeholder concerns, creating social resilience around management decision-making. Respond to or contact stakeholders individually and meet in-person when requested or appropriate.

Acknowledge and recognize stakeholders for their efforts to engage.

Interact with stakeholders informally in community settings.
Ensure openness Openness ensures the goals, motivations, and activities for management decision-making are communicated publicly, and ensures that engagement processes are clearly documented. The public should be aware of how they can, and cannot, influence outcomes, and how their perspectives were ultimately considered within decision-making. Openness around decision-making processes builds trust and interest in contributing. It also helps establish stakeholder expectations and illuminates where interpretation or understanding may differ across stakeholders. Clarity in messaging is critical for reducing public misunderstanding, negative views, and distrust of agency actions. Provide mechanisms for stakeholders to easily identify the status of the decision-making process and how they may engage proactively (website, listservs).

Clearly and openly communicate why and how the management decision is made (i.e., who will make the final decision, what is the role of stakeholders and marine resource users in the decision-making process, what information was used to influence the decision, how the decision will lead to optimal outcomes for the public as well as the Department).

If information is withheld, communicate the reasons for doing so to stakeholders.

Use clear, simple, and accessible language (e.g., language, structure, vocabulary); employ analogies and real-world examples in communications.

If a mistake is made, admit it. Rectify it as soon as possible and establish processes and procedures to help avoid future errors.

Provide clear rationale and need for stakeholder participation (e.g., stakeholders will be able to contribute to management goal-setting, invitations to engage clearly state how participation is in the stakeholders’ best interest).
Pursue inclusivity Ensuring an inclusive and public process is critical for informed decision-making. The exclusion of voices can limit the information available to inform decision-making and stakeholder buy-in. Engage a representative cross section of stakeholder interests affected by the management decision and confirm this selection with the affected communities.

Disseminate information in the languages and formats that all potential stakeholders can understand.

Selecting an effective stakeholder engagement approach

Appendix G includes an inventory of potential engagement strategies (i.e., advisory bodies, townhall meetings, listservs, etc.), as well as resources necessary for their use. Identifying which strategy, or combination of strategies, to employ is driven by several factors. These factors include the following:

1. Potential goals of engagement

  1. Inform stakeholders: Educate the affected communities regarding potential or pending regulatory changes or general management efforts.
  2. Solicit input: Understand the perspectives of various stakeholders and capitalize on their expertise.
  3. Involve stakeholders in two-way dialogue to inform management decisions: Collaborate to develop alternatives.
  4. Build trust: Develop a mutual understanding of objectives and transparency regarding the efforts to achieve them.

2. Timing of stakeholder involvement in the planning process (e.g., early, middle, or late phases of the planning, regulatory, or implementation process).

3. Stakeholder characteristics

  1. Are the stakeholder communities well defined?
  2. Do organized institutions exist within the fishery?
  3. What is the relative capacity for engagement?
  4. Are there leaders within the fishery?
  5. What is the geographic size and geographical distribution of the fishery?
  6. Are there any language barriers?
  7. To what extent do the stakeholder communities use email and social media?
  8. What is the history of engagement with the stakeholders’ communities on regulatory or other issues?

These considerations should also be weighed against additional opportunities and constraints such as the following:

  • Whether resources such as funding, staff availability, and necessary skills are available to implement the strategy.
  • Whether the legal and regulatory landscape affecting the process may place some constraints on which strategies are appropriate (e.g., litigation associated with the management of a particular marine resource can constrain options for stakeholder engagement).
  • The history of past experiences associated with the use of specific engagement strategies in the fishery or resource management area. If the strategy was used in previous efforts and resisted by stakeholders, it may not be appropriate for the next management effort.
  • Whether the current management process is contentious. In some cases, highly contentious stakeholder processes are best addressed using in-person strategies.
Fishing in Santa Monica. (CC photo by Jo Ann Deasy)

Engagement strategies for the specific levels of the management continuum

The general considerations provided above have been used to develop some specific recommendations for how to engage stakeholders at the various levels of the management continuum described in Chapter 3. Since the characteristics of specific fisheries will vary, the following discussion is intended to guide the development of a strategy for engaging stakeholders when generating three types of management documents: ESRs, rulemakings, and FMPs.

Stakeholder engagement for Enhanced Status Reports

While ESRs do not require a public process like FMPs, they do present an important opportunity for stakeholder input. The following process has been identified for their development:

  • Stakeholders and outside experts should be consulted, and partnerships should be employed where helpful in the development of draft ESRs.
  • ESRs should be living documents maintained by the Department. Once approved, they can be updated without returning to the Commission. Stakeholders and researchers can suggest changes and provide information at any time.
  • Each ESR should identify a contact for the public to direct comments.

A primary purpose of ESRs is to identify gaps in research and understanding that researchers and stakeholders can help to fill. ESRs are Department documents, but they are intended to capitalize on the interest and expertise of outside scientific and stakeholder communities.

Stakeholder engagement for Enhanced Status Reports plus focused rulemakings

When an ESR needs to be augmented with a rulemaking, additional public processes are required. In addition to what is legally required, the Department should take further steps to ensure that stakeholders and the public are engaged and involved in decision-making. Every fishery and rulemaking is different and the appropriate course will vary; however, in a typical case the Department should take the following actions:

  • Have preliminary discussions with participants in the affected fishery to understand perspectives and underlying issues.
  • Brief the Fish and Game Commission(opens in new tab)’s Marine Resources Committee (MRC) and the full Commission as directed, on the purpose and need for a rulemaking, and present the Department’s approach for engaging stakeholders in the decision-making process.
  • Conduct broader outreach to stakeholders likely to be affected to understand their perspectives and ideas regarding potential regulations.
  • Discuss proposed regulations with the MRC.
  • Refine proposed regulations if possible based on MRC and public input.
Stakeholders arriving at a Spiny Lobster Fishery Management Plan meeting. (© Steven M. Barsky)

Stakeholder engagement for Fishery Management Plans

An FMP may be necessary when more comprehensive management changes are needed (see Chapter 3). While management changes that occur via an FMP may be more substantial, stakeholder engagement should still be as focused and targeted as possible. The development of an ESR as a first step should help to focus the FMP development efforts on the areas where change is needed and on issues of most direct relevance to stakeholders. As with rulemakings, the needs of each FMP development process will vary. The following activities can help ensure effective MLMA-based engagement:

  • Engage in direct communication with affected stakeholders, including those participating in the fishery.
  • Consider opportunities for attracting funding or other resources and leveraging partnerships.
  • Where appropriate, engage fishery participants in the application of Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE)(opens in new tab) (see Chapter 5) as a means of scoping FMP issues and options.
  • Brief the MRC on the purpose, need, and proposed scope and scale for an FMP, describe the relationship to the priorities identified through Chapter 2, and identify the plan for engaging stakeholders in decision-making.
  • Alert the public to the intent to develop an FMP and the issues to be addressed using the Department website, list serves, social media, and mailings.
  • Where possible, conduct targeted outreach to help inform management and understand stakeholder perspectives regarding specific issues.
  • Convene ad-hoc advisory group(s) as needed to address issues involving new regulations. (As discussed in Appendix G, these groups can be relatively resource intensive, especially when addressing contentious issues. Their use may be a primary difference between more streamlined and traditional FMPs in terms of stakeholder engagement and process intensity.)
  • Hold standing agenda items at MRC meetings during draft development, highlighting key issues and soliciting input where needed.
  • Hold public meetings, conference calls, or webinars during draft development, highlighting key issues and soliciting stakeholder input where needed.
  • Provide a draft FMP for public review at least 30 days prior to submission to the Commission.

Regardless of the strategy used, the Department should regularly evaluate stakeholder engagement to measure whether current strategies are achieving target outcomes. The most effective approach may change over time, and the Department may need to adapt to better suit the changing needs of marine resources and stakeholders.

Photo at top of page: A fisherman in California. (© David Hills, all rights reserved)