Trust and new modes of fisheries governance

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


 It is a commonplace today that many of the world’s commercial fisheries are in a state of crisis. As a response to the state of fisheries management, a large array of governance innovations has been deployed over the past two decades in many fisheries industries worldwide. In these new governance arrangements state, market, and/or civil society actors participate while striving for a more sustainable fisheries industry. These new governance arrangements influence social relations, and subsequently trust relationships between the actors involved in fisheries governance. The main objective of this thesis was therefore to analyse and to understand how trust relationships between the main actors in the Dutch fishing industry have changed under conditions of new modes of governance enhancing demands for sustainability.

In this thesis trust is analysed along four perspectives that represent different trust relationships: 1) trust relationships among fishermen, 2) trust relationships between fishermen and government, 3) trust relationships between fishermen and NGOs, and 4) trust relationships between fishermen and other companies/actor within the value chain. In each perspective trust plays a different role. In each of the four perspectives trust relationships are analysed by studying several case studies of new fisheries governance arrangements that have been introduced in the Dutch fisheries industry during the last decades. The data for each case study were obtained through extensive observations and interviews with the central actors during a period of eight years, of which the main part took place from 2008 to 2010. In order to analyse trust in fisheries governance research, three pairs of trust (dichotomies) are applied, each pair referring to a different dimension of trust. The pairs are: 1) personal/institutional trust, 2) thick/thin trust, and 3) passive/active trust.

The first arrangement I have analysed is the co-management system, which was installed in 1993 with the aim to restore trust relationships between government and fishermen. In the co-management arrangement, two trust relationships play an important role: trust between government and fishermen, and trust among fishermen themselves. The second arrangement I analysed concerns fourteen Study Groups of fishermen. In this arrangement trust relationships amongst fishermen play a crucial role. Thirdly, I have analysed the relationships between NGOs and fishermen by studying the introduction of the Good Fish Guide (Goede Viswijzer), and several other by the Viswijzer induced governance arrangements. Finally, , I have studied the introduction of thirteen new governance arrangements within the Dutch fresh fish value chain and their impact on trust relationships between companies that operate in the same value chain.

The analysis of the four different dimensions of trust and their role in new fisheries governance arrangements provided clear insight into how societal changes have led to new governance arrangements as well as a shift in trust relationships. The new governance arrangements are characterised by new modes of steering. Where previously mainly state and fishermen were involved in governance, at present the group of stakeholders is extended to among others NGOs, consumers, retail companies, other users of the marine environment, and state bodies with interests that go beyond the fishing industry. As a consequence this group is getting involved in fisheries governance through participation and market governance, putting pressure on an industry that used to be very homogeneous, and mainly based on thick trust relationships with relatives, close friends, and local peers.

This implies that ‘old’ trust relationships that were related to ‘old’ centralised or neo-corporatist governance arrangements also need to be adjusted to the new modes of steering that are characterised by participation, negotiation, interaction, and adaptation. Several shifts in trust are therefore taking place. Firstly, thin trust, which is in favour of variety, becomes more essential than the previously important thick trust relationships. This thin trust especially plays a role in situations of change, i.e. the shift from the old arrangement to the new arrangement. When after a while new governance arrangements become more stable, and trust is built among the stakeholders, trust can become thick again, as actors cease to be strangers, and have built up a shared framework. These new thick trust relationships are no longer rooted in family relationships, but in personal, frequent relationships between people that share a similar vision on for example sustainability, market, product, policy etc., and are dependent or committed to the other person. Secondly, trust is increasingly an active process that requires continuous interaction in order to be sustained, especially during times of change (from one governance arrangements to the other). When a new governance arrangement is installed, and a more stable situation arrives, a new form of passive trust can then characterise relationships.

However, modern societies cannot rely on personal trust alone. Institutional trust has enabled people to have trust in an organisation or arrangement without having met all the people involved. During times of change, from one governance arrangement to another, the rules, and the reputation where trust is derived from temporarily do not function. This means that trust temporarily relies on personal relationships until a new governance arrangement is build that is able to create new institutional trust relationships. Institutions such as producer organisations, product board, and the auction that previously generated institutionalised trust, have lost their legitimacy as they fail to cope with the increasing variety that characterise the industry. Therefore, fishermen increasingly seek direct contact with outsiders themselves instead of waiting for representatives or auction to do that. As a result, personal relationships temporarily increase, for example within the value chain between producers and buyers.

However, these personal, active, and reflexive forms of trust are more time consuming, and actors strive for stability, and predictability through institutional trust through more new, legitimate, and trustworthy governance arrangements, for example through certification, a new auction system or a European co-management system. Hence, the fisheries industry combines both pre modern and modern characteristics, and passive, and thick trusts still play an important role in contemporary societies, although in a new, more reflexive form.

The opening up of the industry to outsiders, made possible through new trust relationships, is an important condition for the sustainability and thus the future of the Dutch fishing industry. The increasing direct interaction with different stakeholders has led to more diversity and knowledge exchange between stakeholders that previously did not interact. The industry is changing from a homogeneous sector to smaller, diverse groups that are organised along product categories instead of along community, and family. Where previously trust was related to the industry as a whole, we now see diverse groups of fishermen that enjoy different degrees of trust. Some groups gain more trust form outsiders than others. Mutual dependency and mutual trust are however vital conditions for successful deliberation, and ultimately a change in operations towards a more sustainable fishing industry. Without these conditions, interaction and information exchange are interpreted negatively leading to an unwillingness to change.



Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Mol, Arthur, Promotor
  • van Tatenhove, Jan, Co-promotor
Award date4 Nov 2011
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs9789461730183
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2011


  • fisheries
  • fishery management
  • fishery policy
  • governance
  • human relations
  • netherlands


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