Using normative evaluations to plan for and manage shellfish aquaculture development in Rhode Island coastal waters

Tracey Dalton, Di Jin, Robert Thompson, Allison Katzanek

Marine Policy 83 (2017) 194–203

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As shellfish aquaculture activities grow in the US, researchers, practitioners, resource users, and others have questioned how much development can be accommodated by natural and social systems. In a unique application of the normative evaluation approach to shellfish aquaculture development, this study uses data from a mail survey to (1) examine Rhode Islanders’ support for aquaculture in general and in RI waters; (2) investigate how different features of an aquaculture farm influence normative evaluations; and (3) explore areas of agreement and disagreement among stakeholder groups for social carrying capacities associated with aquaculture in RI coastal waters. Findings demonstrate that respondents do not strictly support or oppose aquaculture development; instead support depends on the waterbody where the aquaculture is occurring, the amount of area used for aquaculture, and ways in which aquaculture is conducted. Social norm curves show that levels of acceptabilities for shellfish aquaculture development in two RI waterbodies decline with increasing levels of aquaculture activities. Comparisons among sub-sets of respondents highlight disagreement among groups on the level beyond which shellfish aquaculture development is no longer acceptable (social carrying capacity). Results from normative evaluation studies can be used in combination with physical, ecological, and biological carrying capacities; management goals and objectives; other resource uses and values; and desired social and ecological conditions to inform policy discussions about shellfish aquaculture development in coastal waters.