Engaging stakeholders in marine conservation planning: Recommendations for moving forward with a bioregional marine protected area network on the Scotian Shelf
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It is widely recognized that engaging stakeholders in marine protected area (MPA) network planning is critical for ensuring the long-term success of this conservation tool. Participatory decision-making leads to smoother implementation and enhanced compliance with regulations, while also promoting social learning, fairness, and public trust. In spite of compelling evidence for effective stakeholder engagement, it is not uncommon for MPAs to fail because of poor engagement processes. This project endeavours to elucidate some of the best practices in stakeholder engagement, and how they have been applied to MPA network planning. An appraisal of relevant literature revealed several key best practices in participatory decision-making, which include: fostering meaningful participation; engaging early; establishing clear objectives; conducting transparent processes; flexibility; acquiring independent facilitation; incorporating socioeconomic data; and, utilizing local knowledge. An examination of two international case studies, namely, the California Marine Life Protection Act and the United Kingdom Marine Conservation Zone Project, demonstrated how these best practices have been applied in different contexts. Lessons learned through this research informed a set of recommendations for Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)-Maritimes Region as they embark on MPA network planning in the Scotian Shelf bioregion. By taking the information in this project under advisement, it is believed that DFO could develop a strong public participation strategy for this initiative.