Making sense of complexity in risk governance in post-disaster Fukushima fisheries: A scalar approach

Mabon, Leslie and Kawabe, Midori (2017). Making sense of complexity in risk governance in post-disaster Fukushima fisheries: A scalar approach. Environmental Science & Policy, 75 pp. 173–183.



This paper evaluates how geographical theories of scale can give a more robust understanding of the governance of complex environmental risks. We assess the case of fisheries in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture in Japan following the 2011 nuclear disaster. Fisheries in Iwaki and Fukushima more widely are operating on a trial basis as understanding of the marine radiation situation becomes clearer, however questions remain over whether consumers will buy produce and to what extent full-scale fisheries will resume. Based on empirical fieldwork undertaken in Fukushima plus supporting documentary analysis, we construct a scalar account of post-disaster Iwaki fisheries. We use this to argue that framing post-disaster fisheries governance at the municipal scale rather than the prefectural scale has opened up opportunities for enacting the more two-way forms of risk governance that contemporary environmental issues may require. We also argue locally-situated ‘experts’ (e.g. fisheries extension officers and citizen science groups) play a key role in negotiating citizens’ and fishers’ relationships with larger-scale scientific discourses due to their ability to work across scales, despite having less techno-scientific expertise than their national-level counterparts. In turn, we suggest that in governance of complex environmental issues, policymakers ought to (a) consider how community-level expectations may differ from risk governance processes developed at larger scales; (b) identify key institutions or figures who can work across scales and support them accordingly; and (c) show cognisance to the social effects that may arise from spatial demarcation of environmental problems.

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