Negotiating Environmental Expertise: Collaboration and Conflict over “Reliable” Environmental Knowledge in a Contested Canadian Fishery

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Nathan YOUNG, University of Ottawa, Canada
The salmon fishery in Canada’s Fraser River is one of the world’s largest, and most contested. The Canadian government has committed to “evidence-based management” of the salmon populations, and therefore relies strongly on internal scientific and experiential expertise (of fisheries managers, for instance). However, user groups that include powerful industry lobbies and indigenous First Nations communities frequently contest these expert assessments, offering their own observations, interpretations, and projections about the salmon populations. What results are networks of complex negotiations that occur vertically (between government and user groups) and horizontally (among and across user groups) over the reliability and veracity of environmental knowledge and expertise, as well as the trustworthiness of the individuals, groups, and institutions that claim to possess these. These negotiations are highly contextual, and involve both collaboration and conflict, leading to shifting alliances and critiques in this complex governance network.

This paper will present findings from 110 in-depth interviews with government employees (policy-makers, fisheries and aquatic scientists, and field managers) and user group leaders (commercial fisheries, sport fisheries, First Nation fisheries, recreational river users, and conservation groups). Findings from the interviews point to fundamentally different perspectives on the meaning, role, and utility of different types of expertise. For instance, government employees tend to see expertise as a tool for solving known and clearly defined problems, while user groups see expertise as a tool for further political action and negotiation. I will draw on concepts from environmental governance (adaptive co-management, adaptive governance), as well as from the sociology of science (boundary work, studies of expertise and experience (SEE)) to draw lessons from this case for better incorporating the study of expertise into environmental sociology-grounded research.