Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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What is the Relationship between Science and Spatial Conflict in Aquaculture? A New Zealand Case Study in Environmental Controversy

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Version 2 2023-03-13, 22:48
Version 1 2021-11-15, 06:50
posted on 2023-03-13, 22:48 authored by Collins, Meghan

Aquaculture development in New Zealand (NZ) is a politically controversial topic that is reliant on science for decision-making. Aquaculture causes conflict over use of marine space because the ecosystem is rich with overlapping values and uses, such as recreation, fishing and biodiversity. Science helps decision-makers understand aquaculture's effects on other stakeholders and the environment. This case study investigates the role that science and scientists have in addressing spatial conflict in NZ aquaculture. This is approached from three angles: policy frameworks, scientific knowledge, and the challenges to utilising scientific knowledge in policy frameworks. Data were drawn from documentary analysis and fifty-two semi-structured interviews with members of the aquaculture policy community, marine scientists, and stakeholders in the marine ecosystem.

The results of this case study are as follows. First, the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) framework employs science to make normative planning decisions. Where there is controversy over planning decisions, science represents different interests in debates over spatial allocation. Second, regarding scientific knowledge, beliefs and policy goals for aquaculture science appear to be oriented towards commercial, civic and Māori epistemologies. Commercial science is the narrowest of the three for considering the full range of values in the debate over aquaculture. Third, when science is used in policy debates, interviewees perceive it to be politicized, revealing the assumption that science should be neutral and objective. Misinformation and mistrust of scientists are barriers to using science effectively to address spatial conflict.

This research suggests that science politicization of science may be a natural part of aquaculture development, which implies that the links between science and values must be made transparent to allow debate. It is necessary to ensure appropriate and adequate opportunity for deliberation about the principles and values for use and non-use of space. This removes the focus from employing 'right' and 'wrong' scientific facts to influence the political process. This type of debate is supported by civic-oriented science.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Environmental Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


McGinnis, Mike; Gavin, Michael