Enclosure and Its Alternatives in MSP

Particularly early in MSP processes, many stakeholders, observers, and critics expressed concerns that planning might result in enclosed oceans spaces and resources that could negatively impact different oceans users. The oceans have a long history of management processes that close off different space and uses for a variety of reasons and for a variety of users, uses, and people. Limited access programs in fisheries, for example, have been both promoted and critiqued for closing entry or effort for fishermen. Marine protected areas, while working to preserve ocean environments, might also close off spaces from traditional users. At very basic levels, shipping lanes, offshore energy installations, or aquaculture operations might physically close off spaces for particular uses and users. MSP, as a comprehensive spatial management system, similarly offers the potential to delineate, allocate, or close off oceans spaces or environments, as well. Or, more specifically in the US, MSP offers a framework to inform oceans enclosures through various avenues, agencies, and rules.

What is different about MSP, we argue, is that as such a wide-ranging, participatory, and complex process, it also offers opportunities for various stakeholders and other interests to intervene in any potential oceans enclosures. Stakeholders might insert their own interests into planning through participatory mapping, offer new ideas in planning meetings, or draw on geospatial data and portals to move forward with their own ideas for oceans spaces and uses. As a result, MSP represents the potential for both closing and opening the oceans (and oceans governance processes) — a characteristic that might seem contradictory, but nevertheless exists throughout MSP processes. As researchers have noted the many negative social impacts that often arise from enclosure processes, it is important that as MSP moves forward in the US, all interested parties see the various possibilities in planning. Rather than closing off the seas or limiting their capacities, MSP can be used to provide new opportunities for communities, environments, and other stakeholders as they move forward in more comprehensive — and mutually beneficial — ocean planning.

We explore this facet of MSP in a new paper where we draw on assemblage theory, the geographic literature on enclosure, and the case of US MSP to explore and demonstrate how we might understand enclosure differently — as something with the potential to offer alternatives, rather than singularly (or primarily) negative outcomes, for communities and environments. For more, see the recently published paper in The Annals of the American Association of Geographers:

  • Fairbanks, L, LM Campbell, N Boucquey, and K St. Martin. 2017. Assembling Enclosure: Reading Marine Spatial Planning for Alternatives. Annals of the American Association of Geographers. DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2017.1345611. (Click here for full access) — Click for abstract
    Research on enclosure has often examined the phenomenon as a process and outcome of state, neoliberal, and hybrid territorial practices with detrimental impacts for those affected. However, the proliferation of increasingly complex environmental governance regimes and new enclosures, such as those now seen in the oceans, challenge these readings. Using the case of U.S. marine spatial planning (MSP), this paper re-examines enclosure through the lens of assemblage. A comprehensive new approach to oceans governance based on spatial data and collaborative decisionmaking, MSP appears to follow past governance programs toward a broad-scale rationalization and enclosure of U.S. waters. But this appearance may only be superficial. As an assemblage, U.S. MSP—and its shifting actors, associations, and practices—holds the potential to both close and open the seas for oceans communities, environments, and other actors. Planning actors use three practices to stabilize U.S. MSP for governance and enclosure: narrativising MSP, creating a geospatial framework to underlie planning, and engaging stakeholders. These practices, however, simultaneously provide opportunities for communities and environments to intervene in U.S. MSP toward alternative outcomes. Rather than a closed seas, U.S. MSP presents opportunities for enclosure to happen differently or not at all, producing alternative outcomes for coastal and oceans communities, environments, and governance.