Involving Stakeholders in Aquaculture
Policy-making, Planning and Management

Sevaly Sen

FERM, 20/23 McLeod Street, Mosman, Sydney NSW 2088, Australia

Sevaly, S. 2001. Involving stakeholders in aquaculture policy-making, planning and management. In R.P. Subasinghe, P. Bueno, M.J. Phillips, C. Hough, S.E. McGladdery & J.R. Arthur, eds. Aquaculture in the Third Millennium. Technical Proceedings of the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium, Bangkok, Thailand, 20-25 February 2000. pp.83-93. NACA, Bangkok and FAO, Rome.

ABSTRACT: The emergence of stakeholder involvement in policy-making, planning and management has arisen out of a new general development model which seeks a different role for the state, which is based on pluralistic structures, political legitimacy and consensus. In aquaculture, as in other areas, stakeholder involvement in policy-making, planning and management is expected to lead to more realistic and effective policies and plans, as well as improve their implementation. The reasons for this are that greater information and broader experiences make it easier to develop and implement realistic policies and plans, new initiatives can be embedded into existing legitimate local institutions, there is less opposition and greater political support, local capacities will be developed and political interference minimized.

Stakeholder involvement can be classified into three types: i) instructive, ii) consultative and iii) cooperative. Instructive involvement is where government makes the decisions but mechanisms exist for information exchange. Consultative involvement is where government is the decision-maker but stakeholders have a degree of influence over the process and outcomes. Cooperative involvement is where primary stakeholders act as partners with government in the decision-making processes. None of these types of involvement is more desirable than another, or mutually exclusive. Much depends on the tasks to be undertaken and the political and social norms, as well as the capabilities and aspirations of the stakeholders themselves.

Critical aspects of stakeholder involvement in aquaculture policy-making, planning and management include: the institutional capacity of stakeholder organizations; legitimacy of the organizations and process, costs of stakeholder involvement, degree of stakeholder competition, and level(s) at which stakeholders are involved.

KEY WORDS: Aquaculture, Stakeholder Involvement, Policy-making, Regulations, Development





In recent years, the involvement of stakeholders in aquaculture policy-making, planning and management has often been advocated, but less frequently applied. The purpose of this paper is to briefly review the stakeholder approach, the terms used and the rationale for promoting stakeholder involvement, and to examine the key issues that affect the successful application of this approach.


During the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was significant upheaval in several social and political systems, most notably the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of democratic regimes in hitherto authoritarian states, the rapid proliferation and accessibility of new technologies, improved telecommunications systems and the accelerated integration of the world economy. At the same time, many developing countries experienced poor economic performance. This was attributed to slower global growth, the debt crises in Latin America and Africa, worsening terms of trade, natural disasters and political instability. Against this backdrop, there was a reorientation towards market economics focusing on the increased role of the private sector and placing greater emphasis on the fiscal responsibility and responsiveness of the state.

During this time, a new development model emerged which sought a different role for the state, based on pluralistic structures, political legitimacy and consensus. There were calls for widespread administrative and economic reforms to reorient the role of many governments to be more open, responsive and democratic. In development cooperation, these trends were reflected in a shift towards programmes that supported a reduction in the role of the state, the removal of subsidies, privatization of state businesses, and liberalization of prices and trade. The state was no longer regarded as the provider of economic and social development, but rather as a partner, catalyst and facilitator.

Policy-makers and planners began to recognize that development must be people-centred, equitably distributed, and environmentally and socially sustainable. Such a process would be heavily influenced by a set of favourable legal and institutional environments that formed an integral part of the governance framework of a state.


The stakeholder approach

Good governance, the promotion of democratization and the transparency of decision-making processes are, therefore, the context for involving stakeholders in policy-making. Such involvement was regarded as critical to the development of new partnerships that governments had to forge in order to create and deliver the benefits of economic and social development.

This was reaffirmed in 1992 by Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which called for greater involvement of individuals and communities at all levels of decision-making. Such involvement included the establishment of mechanisms to encourage and support participation of all stakeholders in the identification of objectives for the subsector, identification of the problems inhibiting achievement of those objectives, the possible strategies to overcome those problems, and the resources and institutional arrangements required.

The stakeholder approach argued that good governance requires political, social and economic priorities to be based on broad social consensus, and that the poorest and most vulnerable populations should be able to directly influence political decision-making. This can be achieved by actively involving stakeholders in decisions that affect their interests. The approach thus assumes that participation will enable stakeholders to identify their diverse objectives, flag problems and conflicts, and contribute to their resolution.

The stakeholder approach for policy-making, planning and management is expected to yield two positive outcomes: realistic and more effective policies and plans and improved implementation. These outcomes are achieved because the stakeholder approach improves decision-making processes in seven main ways:

  • by making it easier to develop more realistic and effective policies, laws, regulations and projects by bringing greater information and broader experiences into the decision-making process;
  • by embedding new initiatives into existing legitimate local institutions and cultural values;
  • by building political support for, and reducing opposition to, policy proposals, through incorporation of stakeholder concerns;




  • by helping to build local and national capacity to effectively plan and implement activities;
  • by minimising political interference in situations where policy-making and planning processes are well established and transparent;
  • by minimising conflicts between stakeholders with different interests by showing promising ways of resolution; and
  • by increasing the cost-effectiveness of policy and plan implementation through anticipating difficulties and problems that might otherwise arise unexpectedly.

What is a stakeholder?

There are multiple definitions of stakeholders, and these can differ between and even within organizations. Whilst acknowledging this difficulty, the definition used in this paper is that adopted by the World Bank (WB). The World Bank (1996) defines two types of stakeholders:
primary stakeholders who are directly affected (positively or negatively) by proposed interventions/policies; and
secondary stakeholders who are indirectly affected by proposed interventions/policies. Secondary stakeholders include those who have technical expertise and/or links to primary stakeholders, e.g. non-governmental organizations (NGOs), various intermediary or representative organizations and technical and professional bodies. They often represent public interests.

  These definitions, how-ever, have their own difficulties. There is still a need to define “directly or indirectly affected.” For example, do the activities of shrimp farmers adjacent to fishing grounds directly or indirectly affect fishers? This question could be answered in the affirmative or in the negative, depending on the perceptions of those involved. It could be argued that fishers have certain attributes that are directly affected, such as the proximity of shrimp farms to their fishing grounds or the extent that shrimp culture impacts their livelihoods. However, it could also be argued that they are indirectly affected because fishers cannot be differentiated from any other persons in the coastal area, and cannot show a direct link between shrimp culture and reduced catches/income. Unfortunately, there are no widely accepted procedures for determining who is, and who is not, directly affected. Much will continue to depend on the power and influence of different stakeholders and their ability to negotiate with government. To illustrate the diversity of primary and secondary stakeholders in aquaculture, Table 1 provides an example of a categorization.

The need to differentiate between primary and secondary stakeholders is relevant where the stakeholder approach envisages different roles for primary and secondary stakeholders. It is often anticipated that primary stakeholders have a more active role in policy-making, planning and management, whilst secondary stakeholders have a less active role.





In a sector such as aquaculture, where there are likely to be multiple stakeholders, the ability to differentiate between primary and secondary stakeholders becomes important. Omission of primary stakeholders, failure to clearly define and identify primary and secondary stakeholders, or defining participation boundaries too broadly, increases the likelihood of conflict, makes decisions difficult to achieve, and/or compromises decision quality (Ostrom et al., 1994).

Furthermore, enabling individuals without a direct stake in aquaculture to participate in decision-making may introduce values and issues that are tangential to aquaculture development interests (NRC, 1999). Since methods used to define and identify stakeholders have a significant impact on the overall effectiveness of the stakeholder approach, it is imperative to have clearly defined criteria for who should and should not be involved in the process. Although most definitions will vary with country or situation, the criteria used for defining stakeholders need to be both transparent and objective. Furthermore, the identification process must be iterative and enable potential stakeholders to make informed decisions on whether or not they wish to participate. In some contexts, the concerns of vulnerable groups may need be specifically addressed.

What is policy-making, planning and management?

Within the context of this paper, policy-making is defined as the formulation of objectives for aquaculture development. Polices can be made at the local, state/provincial, national, regional or international level. Planning is defined as the strategies required for achieving these policies. Management is defined as the implementation of policies and plans, including institutional development, regulatory aspects, capacity building and establishing practical links to other policies and plans of use for aquaculture development.

What is stakeholder involvement?

This paper defines stakeholder involvement as the participation of stakeholders in policy-making, planning and management processes. This can take place in three broadly defined ways (Sen and Nielsen, 1996):

  Instructive stakeholder involvement. Where government is the decision-maker, but mechanisms exist for limited exchange of information with other stakeholders. This tends to be government informing stakeholders about decisions they plan to make. Examples include countries with an undeveloped aquaculture industry, or policy-making and planning for small-scale aquaculture where farmers are not yet organized and/or are geographically dispersed, e.g. Tanzania, Malawi and India (until recently).

Consultative stakeholder involvement. Where government remains the decision-maker, but there are formal and informal mechanisms for consultation with stakeholders. Stakeholders have some degree of influence over outcomes. For example, in Sri Lanka, development of a “Code of Best Practice”, as well as guidelines for the shrimp industry, were developed in consultation with over 12 stakeholder groups. In Australia, a draft National Action Plan for Aquaculture is currently being developed in consultation with industry, national and state government fisheries agencies and researchers. Consultative involvement may also be used for the formulation of regional and international aquaculture policies and plans. For example, up until recently in the European Union (EU), the Advisory Committee for Fisheries was the forum used for consultation with aquaculture operators and other stakeholders on legislative proposals and Community actions.

Cooperative stakeholder involvement. Where all primary stakeholders and government work together as partners in the decision-making process. Secondary stakeholders play a consultative role. An example, is the new European Community (EC) Consultative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, which includes industry representatives (producers, processors and organizations), and consumer, worker and environmental organizations.

None of these three types of involvement is more desirable than the others, nor are they mutually exclusive. Different approaches may be used for different tasks and for different groups of stakeholders. Certain tasks, such as development of policy objectives, may lend themselves better to a consultative approach with primary stakeholders and an informative approach with secondary stakeholders.




A code of practice may be developed in a cooperative approach with primary stakeholders and a consultative approach with secondary stakeholders. The choice of approach will depend on the legal and institutional environment, decision-making processes and the capacity of stakeholder organizations. Finally, it should be emphasized that none of these processes are static and are likely to adapt to changes in experience and situation(s) over time.

Stakeholder involvement in aquaculture

Information on stakeholder involvement is scarce, however, it is apparent that its current status in aquaculture policy-making, planning and management varies considerably between countries and within sectors. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, aquaculture has such a low profile that institutional structures are very weak and there may be no aquaculture policy at all, or it is incorporated into other policies, such as the fisheries policy. Of the 12 countries reviewed in a study of the Strategy for International Fisheries Research on Aquaculture Development and Research (Coche et al., 1994), only two countries (Malawi and Nigeria), had specific aquaculture development plans and only one country, Zambia, had a section on aquaculture in it’s Fisheries Development Plan. In 1990, it was reported (Pillay, 1990) that the growth of aquaculture in Asia had not, generally, been guided by relevant national development plans. However, a number of Asian countries have now developed aquaculture plans: Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Nepal (included in fishery plans), Myanmar (included in fishery development plan), Sri Lanka and Vietnam. In the EU, aquaculture forms part of the Common Fisheries Policy developed in 1983, but the bulk of aquaculture regulation and planning is ongoing under the overall framework of European legislation (although certain aspects fall within the Common Fisheries Policy). In Australia, a new aquaculture plan is under discussion, as the 1994 plan is now considered inappropriate, given the expansion of the industry over the last five years.

The presence or absence of specific aquaculture policies and plans is usually a reflection of the importance of the sector to the national economy. Governments are reluctant to allocate scarce resources for an activity that may be carried out by few and contributes little to the national economy. In such situations, it is unrealistic to expect extensive stakeholder involvement in policy-making.

  A critical mass, such as number of fish farmers or the amount of fish produced from aquaculture, is required. The experience of aquaculture in the EC is a good example. In 1969, the European Federation of Trout Growers was created, comprising six associations producing less than 30 000 mt of fish. In 2000, the association, which had become the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers, comprised 28 national producer organizations whose members produce more than 1 million mt and have a significant influence in aquaculture planning and management within the EU.

Increasingly, where stakeholder involvement occurs in policy-making, planning or management, there is recognition that other stakeholders, apart from producers, should also be involved. For example, in Sri Lanka, guidelines for the shrimp industry were developed in consultation with shrimp farming societies, shrimp breeder associations, shrimp processors, banks, research agencies, the Aquaculture Development Authority, the Export Development Division of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the Department of Customs and Excise. Other examples of extensive stakeholder involvement can be found in Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM) programmes, where coastal aquaculture is only one component of coastal zone planning (e.g. Thailand, Malaysia). As part of the ICAM process, primary stakeholders may include associations representing the public interest (e.g. environmental NGOs), associations and government departments representing other sectors of the economy (such as tourism, agriculture, forestry and fisheries), as well as community development organizations.

Prior to the late 1980s, stakeholder involvement in aquaculture policy-making, planning and management was rarely espoused. For example, the 1987 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Thematic Evaluation of Aquaculture emphasized the role of the state when recommending guidelines for United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/FAO assistance to national policy-making and planning (UNDP/NORAD/FAO, 1987). Stake-holder involvement was not mentioned at all. Since this time, the donor community has, to a limited extent, included some form of stakeholder involvement in assisting national aquaculture policy-making and planning. With the exception of community-based management policies and plans, such involvement has tended to be instructive rather than consultative or cooperative. Also, stakeholder consultation is viewed as important under Integrated Coastal Area Management (Barg, 1992).




The 1997 FAO Technical Consultation on Policies for Sustainable Shrimp Culture (FAO, 1998) concluded that sustainable shrimp culture is dependent on effective government policy, regulatory actions and the cooperation of industry. The Technical Consultation also stressed the importance of participatory (consultative or cooperative) planning and implementation approaches of all stakeholders, although the processes to achieve this were not explored in detail.

Critical issues concerning stakeholder involvement

As the previous section illustrates, there is limited documented experience on the stakeholder approach in aquaculture policy-making, planning and management. This is partly to do with the characteristics of the sector itself which, in many countries, is still in the early stages of development. Not only are policies, plans and management still under development, but many primary stakeholder organizations are either in their infancy or nonexistent. This section explores the critical issues affecting implementation of the stakeholder approach, based on limited experience in the aquaculture sector and on more extensive experiences in other sectors, particularly fisheries.


Political, social and legal environment

The opportunities for effective stakeholder involvement are very limited in situations where laws and regulations prohibit participation, bureaucracies frustrate active involvement and social norms undermine the legitimacy of some stakeholders (e.g. poor or landless farmers, women farmers, indigenous peoples and religious groups). Effective stakeholder involvement requires (UNDP, 1999):

  • political structures encouraging participation;
  • regulatory and legislation frameworks guaranteeing the right of association;
  • mechanisms allowing such organizations to participate in policy-making, planning and management processes; and
    policies to validate decision-making processes.

Institutional capacity and aspirations of stakeholder organizations

Assuming that the political, social and legal environment exists for stakeholder involvement, one of the most critical aspects influencing effective stakeholder involvement is that the stakeholder organizations have the capacity and aspirations to match the task they wish to do.





In many countries, aquaculture stakeholder groups are often poorly organized, or not able to exercise management responsibilities unless their administrative capacity, knowledge base and legal foundation is considerably strengthened. Table 2 gives the main factors that affect the strength of a stakeholder organization. This is based on the experience in European aquaculture, aquaculture policy-making in Australia (ACIL Consulting, 1999), and user participation in fisheries management (Jentoft and McCay, 1995; Hanna, 1996; Sen and Nielsen, 1996; IFM, 1998).


Legitimacy, in this context, is defined as the extent to which principles, rules or standards are consistent with existing values and norms. If such standards or rules are legitimate, then it is more likely that people will comply with them. In a study on user participation in fisheries (Jentoft and McCay, 1995), it was concluded that legitimacy among all affected interests was a key to the success of fisheries management regimes and was contingent upon content as well as process (the way decisions are reached). Aquaculture is no different. Aquaculture policy-making, planning and management will be more stable and enduring if it is being legitimate and because it is considered legitimate by all directly or indirectly affected by developments, compliance will be greater (Walker et al., 1986).

With respect to stakeholder involvement, there are two aspects of legitimacy. The first aspect relates to the process itself - do stakeholders consider the process of involvement (be it instructive, consultative or cooperative) as legitimate? The second aspect relates to the organizations themselves: are they considered legitimate by their own members and by other stakeholders participating in the process?

Process legitimacy

In order to have effective stakeholder involvement in policy-making, planning or management processes, emphasis has often been placed on establishing the institutional set-up, i.e. identifying the stakeholders, organizing meetings, encouraging the formation of stakeholder associations and sensitising government officials to the concept - rather than determining whether or not the process is considered legitimate by all affected.

The creation of procedures to involve stakeholders does not always ensure that they will participate or that they will participate in meaningful ways. One critical issue is whether or not stakeholders believe their participation is of value.

  For example, government might engage in a process of stakeholder consultation as a way to relieve the frustration of stakeholder groups who feel they are not being listened to, although government may not take into account these views when formulating policy or plans.

Another important issue is that if the rules for decision-making or the objectives of the process are not clarified at the start of the decision-making process, stakeholders may misunderstand the process and/or their roles in the process. Furthermore, the more complex or unrealistic the objectives, the less likely stakeholder involvement will be effective. In addition, the earlier stakeholders are brought into the decision-making process, the more likely objectives will be clearly understood and appropriate.

The decision to exclude some primary stakeholders also affects process legitimacy. For example, in Ecuador, the lack of involvement by the shrimp farming sector in the policy-making, planning and management process has produced laws and regulations which are considered unrealistic and lacking legitimacy. Consequently, this has led to noncompliance. In Canada, the Fish Health Protection Regulations had to be revised recently due to industry concerns over lack of input into original regulations and disease listings.

Thus process legitimacy deals with the critical issue concerning the quality of the stakeholder involvement. If stakeholders view the process as both transparent and fair because their norms, values and expectations are listened to and they have a good understanding of the process and what is expected from them, then it is far more likely that they will be committed to achieving these outcomes. In addition, all stakeholders must have realistic expectations of their roles and not be misled in believing that they are involved in a cooperative or consultative process when, in reality, their role is merely symbolic.

Organizational legitimacy

Even if stakeholder organizations have the capacity and resources to participate in the policy-making, planning or management processes, a critical question is whether or not these associations or organizations invited to represent the stakeholder groups are considered legitimate by the stakeholders they claim to represent or by other stakeholders within the sector. For example, at a recent workshop on the future of aquaculture in Australia, industry concluded that the existing industry organization was considered to be insufficiently representative (ACIL Consulting, 1999) and changes were suggested to ensure better representation at a national level.




Also, stakeholders may not be adequately represented by the organization that claims, or is considered, to represent them, even though they may share the same status as aquaculturalists. For example, a national association of aquaculturists whose members are mainly engaged in shrimp culture is unlikely to be considered representative of all aquaculturists. However, they may be the only association invited to participate in a policy-making process because, for example, they are the only association in existence.

The effectiveness and forcefulness of stakeholders as participants in policy-making, planning or management processes depends on the ability of their organization to speak with one voice. Achieving this position makes it more difficult for other stakeholders, including government, to ignore their contribution. However, there can be a conflict between the size of an organization and the democratic processes within the organization (Jentoft and McCay, 1995). As organizations get larger, they rely on processes through which members deliver their demands to a higher body within the organization, whose responsibility is to find a consensus position. Members can become more focused on getting their personal view across, rather than trying to reach agreement on the position their organization should take on a particular issue. Attendance becomes geared to making statements, rather than finding constructive solutions. This can result in general disillusionment amongst members who felt that their views are not represented. This outcome differs from the consensus approach often achieved within smaller organizations, where all members participate in the dialogue required to reach/define the organization-level position.

Representation of the public interest, such as environmental or consumer concerns, is another issue. For example, in situations where there are many organizations which represent environmental interests, the question of which are the most legitimate representatives of environmental concerns arises. The decision on which organization to include may further complicate legitimacy if based less on representation strength and more on political or other influences.

Costs of stakeholder involvement

Information on the costs of stakeholder involvement is particularly scanty, despite the importance of both the choice of stakeholder approach and the outcome. A centralized approach at the policy and planning stages will tend to have lower design costs than instructive, consultative or cooperative approaches, as it is likely to take less time to reach decisions (Hanna, 1996).

  Conversely, stakeholder involvement in the policy-making process is likely to be a more costly process, at least in the short term. The higher the degree of stakeholder involvement, the more costly it will become as more time and resources are required (e.g. staff, travel, meeting expenses). For example, within the EC, it has been estimated that for one EC meeting, US$20 000 is required to cover travel, accommodation, translation and meeting facilities for 20 people. This excludes the time of the people involved.

In the longer term, however, implementation, monitoring and enforcement of the programme might be less costly because the policies and plans are considered legitimate by the stakeholders who have participated in their formulation. If there is a lack of information to plan and manage the sector, stakeholder involvement might lead to lower transaction costs at the planning and management phases because stakeholders can provide information and advice to achieve realistic objectives.

Costs are inevitably a constraint to stakeholder involvement. Where costs have to be borne by the stakeholders themselves, participation, particularly of poorer stakeholders, will be restricted. This will weaken the consultative or cooperative process and reduce the associated benefits.

Stakeholder competition

Involvement of stakeholders in aquaculture policy-making and planning means that there will inevitably be stakeholders with different objectives and mandates for the policy-making process. This gives rise to stakeholder competition and can significantly influence the consultative process.

Influence can be defined as the amount of resources each stakeholder can apply to bring about their preferred outcome. Certain stakeholders may be able to apply resources to help their preferred outcomes occur. For example, in India, powerful and rich entrepreneurs from outside the locality are able to exert considerably more influence than poorer farmers within the locality.

Relative priorities refer to how much each stakeholder cares about this issue relative to other concerns. For example, fish farmers may have more at stake than exporters concerning policies that affect their production, whilst exporters will be more concerned about tariffs.




Also, at certain times, priorities may change. For example, processors and exporters may be more active in the decision-making process when export prices are falling or trade restrictions have been imposed on a particular product.

The way each stakeholder behaves will depend on their willingness to compromise their desired outcome (e.g. a favourable policy for them) with political satisfaction (being part of a “winning” coalition). Ideally, it may be possible to have a win-win situation where all stakeholders are happy with the final policy or plan, but a number of other scenarios are the more usual outcome (Figure 1).

Depending on the priority of the issue and the level of influence, the four main outcomes are:

  • Conflict: where stakeholders expect to win as they consider the issue a high priority and they have a high level of influence. There is no incentive for these groups to make concessions.
  • Submission: some stakeholders are compelled to concede, as they do not have enough influence to achieve their preferred outcome, even though they consider the issue a high priority.
  • Compromise: where some stakeholders make concessions, as they have less influence and do not consider the issue of the highest priority.
  • Stalemate: stakeholders have considerable influence but do not agree that the issue is a very high priority. They do not expect to win and there is bluff and posture but no intention to do anything. Conflict is unlikely and the status quo maintained.
  It is impossible to say what the outcome of multiple stakeholder involvement will be in any given situation, but it is important to be aware of the potential outcomes, and to realize that not all outcomes will be positive for aquaculture policy-making and planning processes. Influence (either access to resources or political influence) can have a major impact on the process and result in policies that reflect solely the interests of stakeholders with the highest influence. Equally, relative priorities of stakeholders will affect their contribution to the process and the dynamics of the process itself.

Level of stakeholder involvement

The question of level addresses the “natural” level of stakeholder involvement in policy-making, planning and management, whether this be local, regional, national, regional or supra-national (regional or international). “Natural” means the most effective level at which stakeholders can become involved and participate in decision-making (Jentoft and McCay, 1995). In this context, the EU concept of subsidiarity is very relevant. Subsidiarity means that decisions which affect people’s (or stakeholders’) lives should be taken by the lowest capable social organization. Some tasks of policy-making, planning or management may be best undertaken at the local or district level; others may be best undertaken at the national, regional or international level (see Figure 2).




For example, in countries where ecosystems are very diverse, some policy-making, planning or management tasks concerning aquaculture production systems or environmental issues may be more naturally undertaken at a provincial level, whilst policies on exports of farmed fish or legislative aspects may be best formulated at the national level.

Additionally, the level may not be administrative or geo-political, but be based on the species or the farming system.

Generally speaking, stakeholder involvement should occur at the level where stakeholders are affected and associated tasks carried out at that level. In some cases, however, the most effective level for stakeholder involvement may not correspond to the capacity of the stakeholders, especially where stakeholders are not well organized, or are diverse or poorly resourced. Alternative arrangements may have to be made, with the risk of stakeholder involvement being weakened, less representative and/or increasing costs of consultation. For example, in countries where fish farmers are geographically dispersed, poor and lacking in organization, alternative means for their involvement may have to be used in national or even provincial policy-making. This might be achieved through the participation of a “proxy” organization such as community development organizations or an NGO that is able to represent fairly the views of these diverse farmers. Alternatively, policy formulators may have to rely on participatory research such as participatory rural appraisal and participatory action research to enhance stakeholder involvement.

Conclusions and recommendations

There are often high expectations that, by involving stakeholders, more realistic and effective aquaculture policies and plans will be formulated and their implementation improved. Although the potential benefits of stakeholder involvement may be significant, this paper has attempted to illustrate the complexity of the process. In order for stakeholder involvement to be effective, a number of critical issues must be addressed. There is some overlap between issues, so that by addressing one (e.g. institutional capacity of stakeholder organizations), another may also be addressed (e.g., organizational legitimacy). What emerges from the review of stakeholder involvement in aquaculture is that optimal effective stakeholder involvement requires action in three main areas:


Enabling environment

  • Laws and regulations which enable participation.
  • Commitment from government to have active stakeholder involvement.
  • Development of mechanisms to include vulnerable groups and overcome social norms undermining certain stakeholders.
  • Ensuring issues are kept simple and appropriate.
    Development of policies which validate the process.

Decision-making processes

  • Development of transparent processes for stakeholder identification and selection so that inclusion of stakeholders and exclusion of other stakeholders is an objective process.
  • Information disseminated to stakeholders to enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Development of stakeholder involvement/decision-making processes (i.e. instructive, consultative, cooperative) which match the capabilities and aspirations of stakeholders.
  • Establishment of decision-making rules and clear objectives which are communicated to stakeholders.
  • Improvement of the legitimacy of policy-making, planning and management processes by ensuring transparency and consistency with existing values and norms.
  • Anticipation of potential areas of competition between stakeholders and development of methods to manage expectations, minimize competition and maximize winning coalitions.
  • Calculation of realistic time-frames and costs of stakeholder involvement and provision of sufficient funds.
  • Identification of the tasks and level (international, supra-national, national, district, local) at which stakeholders are directly affected and able to participate in decision-making processes.

Roles and responsibilities of stakeholders

  • Provision of training for stakeholders on their role in the stakeholder process.
  • Strengthened legal frameworks, administrative capacities, resources and knowledge bases of stakeholder organizations




  • Improvement of the legitimacy of stakeholder organizations where they are considered to be unrepresentative by members, nonmembers and other stakeholders.


The comments and contributions from participants and panel members at the Conference Session on Stakeholder Involvement in Aquaculture Policy-making and Planning are gratefully acknowledged. The panel members were: Mr Imtiaz Ahmed, Mr Nazmul Alam, Dr Martin Bilio, Dr Jason Clay, Dr Helen Dixon, Dr Courtney Hough, Mr A M Jayasekera, Mr Richard McLoughlin, Mr Brjorn Myrseth, Mr Joaquiin Orrantia, Dr Mark Prein and Mr Philip Townsley. Comments from FAO are also gratefully acknowledged.


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