Closing the GAP in Estonia – case study update

GAP2’s collaborative work in Estonia is busy making the case for how participatory research methods and actions can support complex, multi-actor processes such as Marine Spatial Planning. 

Dr Robert Aps talking about how the Estonian case study is progressing so far – playing a vital underpinning role in national policy building and contributing towards Blue Growth in the region – and his hopes for the final few months of GAP2 in Estonia. 

If you can, can you describe your GAP2 case study in one sentence? 

The GAP2 Baltic Maritime Spatial Planning Case Study is using “Mutual Learning” as a basic principle of trans-disciplinarity, incorporating the knowledge, goals and methods of stakeholders from science, policy and society.

We can then move from planning for society to planning with society.

What are your opinions on how your case study is going so far? Who is involved? 


The GAP2 Baltic Case Study is actively participating in the current Pärnu County’s Marine Spatial Planning process, involving a range of stakeholders. To name a few – marine biologists, fishers, fisheries associations, environmental NGOs, wind park developers, and planners, representatives of Pärnu County Government, the Estonian Ministry of the Interior – responsible for maritime spatial planning, the Estonian Ministry of Agriculture, the Estonian Ministry of the Environment, the Estonian Maritime Administration and some other organizations.

The GAP2 ‘mutual learning’ methodology – a step-by-step approach towards collaboration – is used to facilitate the dialogue between fishers and other stakeholders. ‘Mutual learning’ means science, stakeholders and policy makers exchanging knowledge on issues of common concern, in order to improve coordination and decision making. The aim is to raise the quality of the science-policy co-production by strengthening networking between science, stakeholders and policy makers, so they can learn from each other’s experiences and practices. Mutual learning acts also as translator of scientific information produced by scientists, by putting general findings into fishery and policy specific practical language.

One of the ways of approaching fisheries as a spatial resource is based on the widely accepted concept of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) which is described as a subset of all habitats occupied by a species. Referring to this concept, the fisher’s local knowledge on habitats occupied by fish (waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity) was drawn on a Pärnu County sea area map for further analysis and inclusion into the Marine Spatial Plan (MSP) concerned.

© Robert Aps

© Robert Aps

The issue of allocating the sea space for possible aquaculture/mariculture future developments in the Pärnu Bay is also under discussion. Because no active current business interest in that respect was recognized, a lively argument was started to explore the future possibilities not only for fish farming but also for mussel farming with the aim of cleaning the Pärnu Bay water and producing mussel biomass for feed production.

It was proposed to establish the Kihnu Island’s cultural-environmental National Park with the aim not only to protect the sensitive nature and essential fish habitats of this sea area but also to preserve the unique coastal culture and history of inhabitants. However, concern was expressed that establishing the Kihnu Island’s National Park may bring too stringent constraints to local fishers – the reason why this idea was not sufficiently supported up to now. Discussions now continue on that topic.

To conclude, the Pärnu County’s MSP related Stakeholder’s Mutual Learning meetings are contributing to:

  1. Collaborative identification and mapping of  fisheries-related problems and  interests.
  2. Further development of salient (relevant and timely), credible (authoritative, believable, and trusted), and legitimate (developed in a process that considers the values and interests of all relevant stakeholders) arguments to be used in balancing environmental, economic and social interests in a process of Marine Spatial Planning.
  3. Building up the fisheries’ and all other stakeholders’ capacity for informed interest-based and collaborative participation in the MSP process.

What are your plans for the Estonian case study for the remaining 7 months of the GAP2?

In addition to environmental issues, we are planning to focus more on the social and economic sustainability of the local fisheries in line with the EU Blue Growth aspirations. We would like to work on MSP related fisheries argumentation referring to jobs, value, and environmental, social and economic sustainability.

What has been your favourite moment of the project so far? 

It was the moment when the  shared vision and conceptual definition of the “Pärnu Bay as a cradle of marine life, including fish” was proposed, discussed and accepted with the aim to be used as an important argument in the following MSP related stakeholders’ interest-based negotiations.


What would you say still needs some additional work?

We still have a good chance to further contribute to the Pärnu County’s marine areas current MSP process until the conclusion of the GAP2 project in March 2015.  We are planning also to present and discuss the GAP2 Maritime Spatial Planning related results and lessons learned at the Baltic Sea Advisory Council level by the end of 2014.

How do you think the GAP2 international symposium will help in advancing knowledge and practice of participatory approaches to sustainable fishing?

The GAP2 International Symposium can be seen as an excellent forum to present and discuss the project’s most important scientific and practical outcomes. Referring to integration of fisheries into the MSP process a couple of the topics could be mentioned here:

First, MSP process has negotiations at its core – moving to a mutual learning based collaborative interest-based negotiation format is efficiently facilitated by the GAP2 ‘step-by-step approach toward collaboration’ based on understanding the other side’s thinking, focusing on shared interests, looking for solutions to common problems, and where appropriate, utilizing technical approaches, such as Geographic Information Systems.

Second, building the fisheries collaborative negotiation arguments on a concept of Essential Fish Habitats proved to be instrumental in balancing the stakeholders’ interests based on the ecosystem approach to management of human activities. However, more attention should be paid to the fisheries social and economic sustainability.

Dr Robert Aps (University of Tartu, Estonian Marine Institute) is explaining the concept of GAP2 project and the Mutual Learning methodology

How has a trans-disciplinary focus helped to develop policy and governance ideas sustainable fishing in Estonia/across the EU?

I would start with some references. According to Pohl and Hirsch Hadorn (2008) trans-disciplinarity “grasp[s] the complexity  of problems, take[s] into account the diversity of life-world and scientific perceptions of problems, link[s] abstract and case-specific knowledge, and develop[s] knowledge and practices that promote what is perceived to be the common good.” Hirsch Hadorn et al., (2008) state that trans-disciplinary research is necessary when knowledge about a societally relevant problem field is uncertain, when the concrete nature of problems is disputed, and when there is a great deal at stake for those concerned by the problems and involved in investigating them.“

The MSP process is placing the fisheries into the maritime cross-sectoral context – it is expected that the knowledge base and argumentation setting generated by the Mutual Learning would enable fisheries to be efficient partner in a fully comprehensive, integrated, plan led system of governance for the present and future exploitation and development of marine resources, including the fishery resources.

For detailed inquiries about the Estonian case study, please contact Robert Aps:  

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