Costly stakeholder participation creates inertia in marine ecosystems

Ecosystems often shift abruptly and dramatically between different regimes in response to human or natural disturbances. When ecosystems tip from one regime to another, the suite of available ecosystem benefits changes, impacting the stakeholders who rely on these benefits. These changes often create some groups who stand to incur large losses if an ecosystem returns to a previous regime. When the participation cost in the decision-making process is extremely high, this can “lock in” ecosystem regimes, making it harder for policy and management to shift ecosystems out of what the majority of society views as the undesirable regime. Public stakeholder meetings often have high costs of participation, thus economic theory predicts they will be dominated by extreme views and often lead to decisions that do not represent the majority viewpoint. Such extreme viewpoints can create strong inertia even when there is broad consensus to manage an ecosystem towards a different regime. In the same manner that reinforcing ecological feedback loops make it harder to exit an ecosystem regime, there are decision-making feedback loops that contribute additional inertia.

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