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Keywords:

  • governance;
  • Murray-Darling Basin;
  • native fish;
  • Native Fish Strategy;
  • natural resource management

Summary

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

Good governance is crucial in the effective management of complex natural resources issues. There are many elements of effective governance, with recent work proposing eight principles relevant to natural resource management. In this study, we consider the Native Fish Strategy (NFS) – a long-term plan for restoration and protection of native fish in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) – as a case study to explore how these eight principles supported the programme's governance, and in particular, outcomes achieved for stakeholder engagement, knowledge generation and programme delivery. We present a scalable governance model derived from the examined case study, which we believe effectively, links science, management and community participation and would be useful for tackling natural resource management problems at a range of scales in other situations.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

The Native Fish Strategy (NFS) was a multigovernment funded programme established in 2003 to recover native fish communities across the Murray-Darling Basin. The strategy was a partnership led by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) (formerly the Murray-Darling Basin Commission) with the support of the governments of the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. An aspirational goal of restoring native fish communities to 60% of pre-European levels over 50 years was central to the Strategy with native fish communities thought to be as low as 10% at the time of implementation (Murray-Darling Basin Commission 2003). Coordination and management of a large-scale, multijurisdictional implementation programme required careful consideration of governance. This study explores successes and learnings derived from the governance model used as a basis for the NFS.

The NFS governance model was borne from a need to manage complex ecological problems at a large scale (the Murray-Darling Basin is a watershed or catchment that covers over 1 000 000 km2 of the south-eastern Australian continent) across a mix of political and administrative boundaries. By necessity then, the NFS model contained elements equally suited to governance of a national-scale programme. For example, Fig. 1 illustrates links to Australia's national political system through the Natural Resource Management Committee and Basin Officials Committee. Fundamentally, the model provides opportunity for national political support, scientific advice, management expertise, knowledge transfer and strong community links.

image

Figure 1. Native Fish Strategy governance model.

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At an operational level, implementation of the Strategy was overseen by the jurisdictional Native Fish Advisory Panel (NFAP) under broad direction of the Natural Resources Management Committee. Through the NFAP, the Strategy coordinated and invested in research and management, extension and stakeholder engagement activities. The Strategy's governance arrangements also incorporated a mix of thematic taskforces to address particular issues. The taskforces included strategic links to community and dealt with a range of conservation issues including fish passage, alien fish, habitat management and single species recovery as well as on-ground knowledge brokering. In support, the MDBA played a central hosting, administrative and coordinating role for the Strategy (see Fig. 1).

The scale of the Strategy was also large in terms of its ‘whole-of-taxon’ approach, and long-term, 50-year vision. These attributes facilitated the strategic and progressive generation of new knowledge relating to native fish communities and how they respond to various stressors and management interventions at a basin scale (Cottingham et al. 2009; Koehn & Lintermans 2012).

Governance and the Native Fish Strategy

Good governance is recognised as a critical component of effective natural resource management (NRM) (Bosch et al. 2003). The Murray-Darling Basin's (MDB) native fish resources provide a challenging case study for contemporary NRM, given the number of species, jurisdictions and stakeholders involved. Consequently, an ex post examination of the Strategy's governance arrangements provides an opportunity to learn from its implementation and identify useful elements able to be applied to other similarly challenging NRM problems. Here, we use the principles for effective NRM governance (legitimacy, transparency, accountability, inclusiveness, fairness, integration, capability and adaptability) developed by Lockwood et al. (2010) as a framework for assessment of the -Strategy's successful characteristics as well as aspects that could be improved.

Legitimacy

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

The Strategy's legitimacy was conferred at a high level through the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement. This intergovernmental agreement establishes governance arrangements between partner jurisdictions for the integrated management of the MDB, which included implementation of the Strategy. Legitimacy may also generally be gained through the generation of consensus around a vision (Newman et al. 2004), as was the case for the NFS. The specific, measurable and time-bound nature of the Strategy's aspirational and long-term vision helped facilitate consensus among a diverse collection of stakeholders, in doing so overcoming a key challenge which has beset many other NRM initiatives (e.g. Holt et al. 2012). A key challenge in such a long-term visionary goal is safeguarding funding from re-allocation in response to changing needs or political will. To manage for this, it is vital to ensure that expectations are managed regarding the speed at which natural systems are able to respond to rehabilitative efforts, and progress against planned outcomes is reported to key stakeholder groups frequently and effectively.

Newman et al. (2004) acknowledge that legitimacy may also be conferred through leadership and effectiveness at producing outcomes. From an implementation perspective, the NFS team within the MDBA played a key role in offering leadership, as a central body and providing coordination and secretariat functions for the various taskforces. The team also managed a programme of targeted adaptive research and delivered strategic reporting and financial functions. Results of an NFS stakeholder survey conducted in 2013 reinforced the value of this function (Janet Pritchard, unpublished data), particularly in supporting knowledge transfer to jurisdictional participants that were new to the Strategy.

Difficulties were experienced in demonstrating the Strategy's effectiveness at producing outcomes for native fish recovery at a basin scale. For example, a systematic assessment of river health across the MDB showed that native fish populations in twenty of twenty-three river valleys across the Basin were in ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’ condition (Davies et al. 2012). Unfavourable conditions caused by the Millennium Drought throughout much of the Strategy's implementation would have played a role. Time required for recovery of long-lived species would also have been a factor, as would the considerable array of threats still impacting on native fish in the Basin. Notwithstanding, clearer communication of timeframes necessary for system recovery may have assisted in managing expectations with respect to outcomes delivered by the NFS. This may have been a factor in the eventual discontinuation of the Strategy.

Inclusiveness

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

Inclusiveness is particularly important when trying to deliver successful NRM programmes in complex multi-agency and cross-cultural environments (e.g. Schusler et al. 2003; Stokes et al. 2006; Hoffman et al. 2012). The Strategy's governance model sought to incorporate various interests, as evidenced in the composition of its taskforces and committees. Linkages within and among these consultative and advisory groups were strengthened through a shared history of collaborative action to restore fish communities across the MDB. The consolidation of this network of stakeholders with an interest in the conservation and wise use of basin fish resources was considered pivotal in results achieved for native fish (Pritchard, unpublished data). This is also consistent with other NRM governance studies (e.g., Holt et al. 2012).

While collaborative governance was considered a strength of the NFS, other authors have cautioned that such broad engagement can result in increased ‘transaction costs’ (Roberts 2000). There was some evidence of this in the structure of the Strategy's Murray Cod Taskforce, which was established in 2004 to provide advice to senior decision-making bodies on the management of the nationally listed Murray Cod (Macculochella peelii). The original structure of this Taskforce was unwieldy, expensive and difficult to administer due to its large size (Mark Lintermans, pers. comm., 2013). More recently, the Taskforce was reformed, given new terms of reference and reconstituted with smaller membership comprising recreational fishers, researchers and managers from each Basin jurisdiction. Though still in its early stages, the revised Taskforce has continued despite discontinuation of the NFS and has been successful in bridging the potentially competing objectives of recovering and conserving this iconic nationally threatened species, and providing increased opportunities for sustainable recreational fishing opportunities.

Integration

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

Cross-jurisdictional integration across government hierarchies was a well-recognised feature in the delivery of many MDBA-led programmes, and the NFS offered an informative example of this. Governments are at times criticised for an inability to respond in a coordinated and timely fashion to multijurisdictional NRM problems. The Strategy offered an efficient and effective resolution to such constraints in dealing with complex and time-critical problems, such as addressing emergency drought situations threatening basin fish populations.

The NFS governance model allowed for the formation of an expert panel to provide guidance on priority actions in the light of worsening drought conditions in the mid-2000s. An emergency contingency fund was also established in addition to a mechanism to coordinate ‘drought responses’ across the Basin's administrative boundaries (Lintermans 2007). This arrangement enabled rapid provision of on-ground actions such as delivery of environmental water and temporary population relocations, sparing seven populations of threatened fish species in southeastern Australia from localised extinction (Lyon & Hames 2009; Pritchard et al. 2009).

The NFS model was less successful in achieving functional integration with the management of non-fish natural resources such as water, birds and vegetation. Consequently, by not incorporating non-fish values well into the NFS governance model, difficulties were at times experienced when seeking to safeguard against decisions to deliver outcomes for other ecosystem components or water users, which would present risks for native fish communities, including species protected under national legislation (e.g. Brookes et al. 2009).

Capability

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

The Strategy's governance model was effective in building local and regional capacity. The establishment of river-reach scale restoration initiatives known as ‘demonstration reaches’ discussed further by Boys et al. (2014) is an illustrative example of this. Demonstration reaches require implementation of a series of integrated restorative actions on a river reach, with the aim of demonstrating the effectiveness of this approach in tackling threats to native fish communities (Barrett 2004; Barrett & Ansell 2005). Governance arrangements for the planning and implementation of demonstration reach projects encouraged active involvement from community members, local government and NRM groups, in doing so fostering ownership and equipping contributors (including co-investors) with skills, knowledge and experience.

The success of the process through which the MDBA funded these projects, offering seed-funding to promote investment leverage, is evidenced through the Dewfish Demonstration Reach on the Condamine River (Queensland), which is now predominantly self-funded. Participating local community organisations have developed an understanding of the principles underpinning effective river restoration. The Katfish Reach Demonstration Reach on Katarapko Creek (South Australia) is similarly financially independent as a result of efforts to build capacity within participating organisations and community members. Both of these projects have also been recognised for the ecological outcomes they have achieved, with the Dewfish Demonstration Reach receiving the 2013 United Nations Association of Australia's World Environment Day Award, the 2012 Australian River Prize and a 2012 Banksia Award, and the Katfish Demonstration Reach receiving the South Australian Premier's Natural Resource Management Award in 2011.

Adaptability

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

Adaptability is important in natural resource governance (Plummer et al. 2012), particularly under conditions of change, uncertainty and complexity (Armitage et al. 2007). The Sea to Lake Hume Fishway Program provides a good example of how governance arrangements under the NFS facilitated adaptive decision-making. This programme aimed to restore fish migratory pathways along a 2225-km stretch of the Murray River (Barrett & Mallen-Cooper 2006). An expertise-based taskforce was established by the MDBC in 2001 comprising engineers, biologists and river operators to oversee design and assessment of constructed fishways. In addition, a tristate team of fish biologists regularly reported to the Fish Passage Taskforce to discuss fishway performance and ecological requirements for subsequent designs.

The adaptive capacity built into the design process through these arrangements played a significant role in outcomes achieved. For example, early planning and design was targeted at allowing passage of specific size classes of fish, however postconstruction monitoring data reported by biologists showed that small-bodied fish were attempting to use the fishways unsuccessfully, revealing the need to modify future designs to provide passage for smaller-bodied fish (Barrett 2008). The multidisciplinary taskforce was able to rapidly assimilate this new knowledge into refined criteria for future designs. Monitoring results subsequently revealed a much wider range of size classes were using the new fishways, with up to 10 000 individuals passing through them per day (Barrett 2008). This programme of work represents the largest fish passage rehabilitation project ever undertaken in Australia and has been recognised as one of Australasia's top 25 restoration ecology projects (Barrett 2008).

Accountability, Transparency and Fairness

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

These three governance principles are discussed collectively here as they each describe aspects of the decision-making process. Specifically, clarifying responsibility for decision-making (accountability), how decisions are made (fairness), and the clarity with which reasons underpinning decisions are communicated (transparency).

For the NFS, accountability was primarily driven by a need for the MDBA to provide detailed reporting to its jurisdictional partners, higher-level committees and the broader community on the effectiveness and efficacy of the Strategy. Vertical accountability was achieved through a mix of formal (e.g. annual reports, independent mid-term reviews) and informal (e.g. verbal updates, community forums) reporting mechanisms. Horizontal accountability was achieved through the establishment of terms of reference for the Strategy's NFAP and for each of the Strategy's taskforces. Processes to ensure transparency and fairness were informed by the legal and financial regulations of Commonwealth agencies in conducting business including financial administration and procurement. For example, in the context of research procurement, open tender processes were utilised with impartial selection committees engaged to ensure that contracts were awarded on merit, and mechanisms were established for dispute resolution.

In spite of the above-described measures, a survey of stakeholders undertaken in 2013 (Pritchard, unpublished data) highlighted additional opportunities for improvement in NFS governance arrangements. For example, feedback provided by a small number of respondents suggested the Strategy's institutional and governance arrangements may have encouraged risk-averse decision-making processes, slowing progress and impacting on timely dissemination of new knowledge to end-users. The need to manage possible conflicts of interest when prioritising and awarding research was also noted. Also, some respondents identified the importance of ensuring that representatives on high-level jurisdictional committees were adequately briefed on issues relevant to native fish when providing advice to the Ministerial Council. High levels of accountability across public service agencies are likely to remain a requirement in the future. The NFS may have dealt with these aspects by ensuring greater transparency in the bureaucratic structures and decision-making processes it was required to follow.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

Consideration of the governance model applied to the NFS against principles for effective NRM has helped emphasise numerous successful attributes of the programme, as well as some limitations to be learnt from. Long-term, specific, measurable, time-bound and visionary goals are valuable for building consensus among disparate stakeholders in dealing with complex natural resource problems. However, expectations must be managed regarding the realistic speed at which recovery will occur to assist in maintaining legitimacy.

Inclusive, integrative and adaptive processes, though costly, are fundamental to maximising success in resolving large-scale NRM problems. However it is also vital to ensure that ecosystem processes inform the extent of such processes, so that all stakeholder groups with capacity to influence the condition of the resource in question are authentically engaged. Building capability through seed-resourcing on-ground, applied and regional initiatives to impart skills, knowledge, and experience at local and regional levels is an effective way to foster ownership and ensure legacy.

Finally, it is critical to ensure that governance arrangements support, rather than hinder expedient decision-making, while managing for any perceived or actual conflicts of interest. It is also vital that those with responsibility for making decisions do so in a balanced way, with the benefit of all relevant information, and that the reasons underpinning decisions are well communicated and understood.

Acknowledgement

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies

All authors have either worked for or delivered projects in a paid capacity for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's Native Fish Strategy.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies
  • Armitage D., Berkes F. and Doubleday N. (eds) (2007) Adaptive Co-management: Collaboration, Learning and Multi-level Governance. University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, BC.
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  • Barrett J. (ed.) (2008) The Sea to Hume Dam: Restoring Fish Passage in the Murray River. Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
  • Barrett J. and Ansell D. (2005) Demonstration reaches for native fish: moving from theory into practice. In: Proceedings of the 4th Australian Stream Management Conference: Linking Rivers and Landscapes (eds I. D. Rutherfurd, I. Wiszniewski, M. Askey-Doran and R. Glazik) pp. 5967. Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment, Hobart.
  • Barrett J. and Mallen-Cooper M. (2006) The Murray River's ‘Sea to Hume Dam’ fish passage program: progress to date and lessons learned. Ecological Management & Restoration 7, 173183.
  • Bosch O. J. H., Ross A. H. and Beeton R. J. S. (2003) Integrating science and management through collaborative learning and better information management. Systems Research and Behavioural Science 22, 107.
  • Boys C. A., Lyon J., Zampatti B. et al. (2014) Demonstration Reaches: looking back whilst moving forward with river rehabilitation under the Native Fish Strategy. Ecological Management & Restoration 15 (Suppl. 1), 6774.
  • Brookes J., Baldwin D., Koehn J. and Ganf G.(2009) Expert Panel Evaluation of Risk Assessment for Chowilla Regulator. University of Adelaide.
  • Cottingham P., Bond N., Hart B., Lake S. and Reich P. (2009) The Murray-Darling Basin Native Fish Strategy: 5th year review. Report by Peter Cottingham & Associates in collaboration with Monash University and Water Science Pty Ltd.
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  • Hoffman B. D., Roeger S., Wise P. et al. (2012) Achieving highly successful multiple agency collaborations in a cross-cultural environment: experiences and lessons from Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation and partners. Ecological Management and Restoration 13, 4350.
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  • Lintermans M. and Cottingham P. (eds) (2007) Fish out of Water – Lessons for Managing Native Fish During Drought. Final Report of the Drought Expert Panel, Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
  • Lockwood M., Davidson J., Curtis A., Stratford E. and Griffith R. (2010) Governance principles for natural resource management. Society & Natural Resources 23, 9861001.
  • Lyon J. and Hames F. (2009) Bushfires and threatened species. In: Proceedings of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority Native Fish Forum 2009. 1st–2nd September 2009. Albury Entertainment Centre. (ed. J. Pritchard) Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Canberra, pp. 7481.
  • Murray-Darling Basin Commission (2003) Native Fish Strategy for the Murray-Darling Basin 2003–13. Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, Canberra.
  • Newman J., Barnes M., Sullivan H. and Knops A. (2004) Public participation and collaborative governance. Journal of Social Policy 33, 203223.
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  • Stokes K. E., O'Neill K. P., Montgomery W. I., Dick J. T. A., Maggs C. A. and McDonald R. A. (2006) The importance of stakeholder engagement in invasive species management: a cross-jurisdictional perspective in Ireland. Biodiversity and Conservation 15, 28292852.

Biographies

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Inclusiveness
  6. Integration
  7. Capability
  8. Adaptability
  9. Accountability, Transparency and Fairness
  10. Discussion
  11. Acknowledgement
  12. References
  13. Biographies
  • Matt Barwick is the Director of Greenfish Consulting Pty. Ltd. (36 Sydney Street Labrador, Gold Coast, QLD 4215, Australia

  • Dean Ansell is a PhD candidate with the Australian National University's Fenner School of Environment & Society (Linnaeus Way, Acton ACT 2601, Australia

  • Janet Pritchard and Terry Korodaj are both Assistant Directors for Constraints Management with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's River Management Division (Level 4, 51 Allara St, Canberra City, ACT 2601, Australia; Email: Janet.Pritchard@mdba.gov.au). This paper discusses how governance arrangements influenced outputs produced and outcomes achieved through implementation of the Native Fish Strategy