Evolving adaptive governance: challenging assumptions through an examination of fisheries law in Solomon Islands

Amber W. Datta, Brian C. Chaffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Unprecedented, rapid social-ecological change threatens marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities who depend on them. Governance scholars have identified adaptive governance principles that enable managers and decision makers to respond flexibly to such change. However, much of this work is the result of case studies undertaken in the Global North, primarily in democratic countries. Despite this research bias, governance actors (e.g., government officials, nongovernmental organization professionals) in countries with other types of governing systems are increasingly applying adaptive governance principles normatively to policy. This expansion in the implementation of adaptive governance requires that governance scholars account for substantial variation across legal systems and sociocultural norms around decision-making in different geographies. Governance scholars must closely examine areas where adaptive governance principles need to evolve to better suit a wide variety of governance contexts. Here, we conduct such an examination through an empirical case study of a fisheries law developed in a country in the Global South: the Solomon Islands Fisheries Management Act (2015). We analyze the content of the Act along with data from interviews with governance actors and fishing village residents. We show how the Act realizes several adaptive governance principles through novel provisions that formally incorporate local communities and their practices into national fisheries management. We then illustrate four challenges for implementation that require critical reflection on approaches to institutionalizing adaptive governance in diverse contexts. We illustrate how these challenges are rooted in three assumptions underlying adaptive governance theory. These assumptions relate to: (1) the role of the state, (2) the role of democratic ideals in enforcement, and (3) the role of Western science, compared to other epistemologies, in decision-making. We conclude with suggestions for evolving these assumptions to improve the institutionalization of adaptive governance in countries with a wide variety of legal systems and governing norms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Global South
  • Pacific Islands
  • adaptive governance
  • co-management
  • fisheries policy
  • inshore fisheries
  • social-ecological systems


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