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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Variables

Variable TypeOrdinal
Variable Component TypeGovernance System
Variable KindComponent
ThemeInstitutions (learn about themes)
QuestionTo what extent (low, medium, or high) do the institutional arrangements of this governance system fit well with the ecological or physical features of the commons on which they are implemented?
Select Options1 Low, 2 Medium, 3 High
ImportanceInstitutions that are poorly fit to the biophysical reality on which they are implemented are likely to lead to poor outcomes. While this is very obviously important, in a way this question and this variable is really just a starting point, from which the analyst should proceed to consider the precise nature of the fit, or lack thereof.

The idea of social-ecological fit has been described by several authors, most notably by Young (2002) and Ostrom (1990). It is one of Ostrom's institutional design principles, which describes it as a congruence with local conditions: that "Appropriation and provision rules are congruent with local social and environmental conditions" (from Cox et al. 2010, 38).

In her description of this principle, Ostrom (1990) is relatively succint. She describes the changes in rules used by Spanish irrigation systems based on the availability/scarcity of the resource (water):

"Adding well-tailored appropriation and provision rules helps to account for the perseverance of these CPRs. In all these cases, the rules reflect the specific attributes of the particular resource. Among the four Spanish huertas that are located in fairly close proximity to one another, the specific rules for the various huertas differ rather substantially. It is only in the one system (Alicante) where there has been substantial storage available since the construction of Tibi Dam in 1594 that a water auction is held. At the time of the Sunday morning auction, substantial information about the level of water in the dam is made available to the Alicante irrigators. Consequently, they can know about how much water they will receive if they purchase an hour of water. In the systems without storage, water is strictly tied to the land, and some form of rotation is used. In Valencia, each farmer takes as much water as he can put to beneficial use in a defined order. Thus, each farmer has a high degree of certainty about the quantity of water to be received, and less certainty about the exact timing. In Murcia and Orihuela, where water is even more scarce, a tighter rotation system is used that rations the amount of time that irrigators can keep their gates open.

"Further, the rules attempt to solve the problem of getting water to a more diversified terrain than in Valencia. Subtly different rules are used in each system for assessing water fees used to pay for water guards and for maintenance activities, but in all instances those who receive the highest proportion of the water also pay the highest proportion of the fees. No single set of rules defined for all irrigation systems in the region could deal with the particular problems in managing each of these broadly similar, but distinctly different, systems."

Young (2002) discusses fit largely in the context of the process of institutional diagnostics (which, interestingly, he distinguishes from what he calls the "desgin principles" approach). He sees institutional diagnosis the process of matching institutions to problems based on particularly salient, diagnostic features of the problem.


Theory Usages

TheoryValue Used
CBNRM design principlesHigh
Decentralization and leakageLow
Social-ecological fit theoryHigh
Decentralization and elite captureLow
Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM)High
Polycentric comanagementHigh
Political decentralization and fitHigh
Failure of centralized controlLow
Participatory management High
External recognition and local autonomyLow

Associated Studies

Study Citation

Component Usages

ComponentValue UsedExplanation
GMR governance system 1998-current 
GBR Marine Park Act 1975-1999Low (1)The GBRMP and Authority were specifically designed to protect the reef. There was good institutional fit even in the initial phases of zoning although this did also improve considerable following re-zoning in 2004.
GBR Marine Park Act 2004-currentLow (1)The area governed by the GBRMP Act encompasses the marine portion of the Great Barrier Reef. It does not incldue the adjacent land, however.
Wakatobi National Park 2008-currentLow (1)The MPA encompasses the entire area (islands, coral reefs etc) and the boundaries of the MPA align with the boundaries of the district government. No-take areas are minimal (3% of MPA).
NWHI Monument Act 2006High (3)All no-take and for many of the key species/ecosystems - monk seals, coral reefs, green turtles = good, but for migratory seabirds probably not as good as spend time outside of the MPA.
Magnuson-Stevens ActLow (1)
Raja Ampat Governance SystemHigh (3)Good social fit and covers wide vairety of habitat and areas, including large no take areas
Joint Sanctuary Management Governance System Low (1)The protected area includes multiple habitats which all influence each other (e.g. kelp forest and rocky shores and sandy bottoms) which allows for a comprehensive protection to satisfy the Sanctuary's goals. Regulations vary according to habitat sensitivity, amount of user interest in area, and ability to monitor and enforce. Multiple habitats extend outward of the management and thus the habitats are not fully protected by the management since they are sometimes protected (when within boundaries of the Sanctuary), but sometimes not (when outside the Sanctuary). The resources are managed to the best available science and the Sanctuary manages for multiple external factors (runoff, shipping, oil, dumping, etc). Intertidal and groundfish are fairly well-covered within the Sanctuary to ensure sufficient protection within Sanctuary borders.
Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery Management PlanLow (1)
Macquarie Island Nature Reserve Management Plan High (3)
Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management PlanLow (1)The governance specifies nearshore vs offshore stocks and recognizes various habitat types and depths with associated species. The Rockfish Conservation Area fluctuates according to physical changes in the Sanctuary. Essential fish habitats are determined by ecological and physical features.
Svalbard Environmental Protection ActLow (1)The Governance System has regulations specifically pertaining to the main actors on Svalbard and to the species of conservation interest. Consultations for the first management plan highlighted a few differences of opinion – namely that the scientific/education community advocated for special areas for research, while the tourism community protested against any stricter regulations or no-go zones. The new management plan introduced a few Zones into the Nature Reserves, but did not fundamentally alter the management, suggesting that the Governance System is a good socio-ecological fit. We should note however, that this Governance System does not address impacts from climate change and pollution, which are considered high threats to the system, but which largely originate beyond the borders of the Nature Reserves.
Seaflower MPA Act 2005Medium (2)In terms of the governance process yes (multi-stakeholder participation), but in terms of management activities no. These are stymied by the lack of stable funding, environmental monitoring, and enforcement.
Galapagos Governance System 1998-currentMedium (2)The GMR encompasses a large ecological area, but the zoned areas are minimal (16%) with little management activity in the remaining areas of the park, except for a ban on industrial fishing.
GABMP (Commonwealth Waters) Plan of Management 2000 - 2005 and Management Plan 2005 - 2012Medium (2)The institutional arrangement of this governance system recognizes the various habitat requirements that are associated with the species it aims to protect and conserve. However, both zones (MMPZ and the BPZ) are multiple use zones (IUCN Category VI) and permit activities that may negatively impact the species and habitat the system is designed to protect and the governance system does not match the spatial distribution of migratory species in the GABMP (CW).
Heard and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management PlanLow (1)Heard and McDonald Islands are part of the larger Kerguelen Plateau system. The MPA only encompasses the Australian territorial waters, but not the adjacent French national waters (around Kerguelen) or the high seas (governed by CCAMLR) beyond the AU and FR EEZs.
Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery Management PlanLow (1)The HIMI toothfish stock is part of a larger Kerguelen Plateau population. This population is targeted by French fishers (in the Kerguelen Island French EEZ fishery), by Australian fishers (HIMI fishery), and by high seas fishers in the CCAMLR Area. The stock has also been heavily targeted by IUU fishers in national and high seas waters. There is some coordination between managers (especially CCAMLR and AFMA) but less so with French national fishers. Also, there remain critical gaps in the life history information about the Kerguelen Plateau toothfish.
Cenderwasih governance systemLow (1)The zoning plan aims to protect key habitats and includes a mix of zones - however, it is very complex. The core zone is very minimal (0.046km2), and the majority is traditional or general use.
The Falkland Islands Government (FIG) Fisheries Department’s Falklands Interim Conservation and Management Zone (FICZ)High (3)The FOCZ was limited due to Argetina's 200nm territory. "Since 1990, the fisheries policy has specified grounds reserved to L. gahi fishing. The “Loligo box” extends over some 9,700 square nautical miles. It covers the entire fishing grounds for L. gahi on the shelf edge around the islands from the north-northeast of East Falkland to the south of West Falkland (fig. 1). The original purpose of the Loligo box was twofold. The main purpose was to keep trawlers licensed to catch finfish out of the squid fishery. This has been very effective; exemptions have been granted rarely and only to semipelagic trawlers targeting spawning aggregations of southern blue whiting. The second purpose was to confine vessels targeting squid, for which there are no prescribed minimum mesh sizes, to fishing grounds where there is the least likelihood for incidental capture of juvenile finfish.” (Hatfield and DesClers 1998) Squid are most abundant in the Loligo box, but key life stages are protected. The Falkland Islands Government has jurisdiction over this entire area. Containing fishing activity to one area which is generally one habitat ensures more effective enforcement.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Market Squid Fishery Management PlanMedium (2)CDFW manages squid because they are found predominately in state waters. This includes a wide range of habitats. A more fit management plan would incorporate the entire distribution of the population, which would also then incorporate all users, rather than state-based licenses. This would allow users to move easier according to squid migration, and provide equal access to users.
Caeté-Taperaçú Extractive Reserve (RESEX) in BrazilLow (1)
Indonesian Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture 
Self.organized rules and norms for SCUBA divingHigh (3)
Marine Areas for Responsible Fishing (AMPRs) Costa RicaLow (1)
Sasi in Tomolol, Misool  
New Zealand Quota Management SystemMedium (2)Focus on region where most activity occurs. Multiple habitats. Unsure where squid go exactly, and unsure where spawn. One region for fishing is actually not reasonable because is too close to MPA, so no fishery in North despite on paper. Focus of management is on the SQU6T region since this has the most impact with sea lions. This is high SE Fit. However, the other locations would be considered low SE Fit. These do not fit the natural range of squid.
Macquarie Island Marine Park Management PlanMedium (2)Because many of the species it aims to protect are migratory (i.e. Light-mantled albatross, Royal Penguin) or do not appear to fully occupy the MPA (i.e. Patagonian toothfish) it does not match the spatial distribution of these resources. However, within the spatial limitations there is a good fit between the rule and the resources they mean to govern.