Challenges for integration of the Polish fishing sector into marine spatial planning (MSP): do fishers and planners tell the same story?
In this paper, we explore the Polish fishers' perception of marine spatial planning (MSP) processes off the Polish coast. Our research is guided by the radical approach to MSP which, at its centre, places the interplay between MSP actors and their stakes. Our approach certainly considers the relationship of MSP with politics and power, questioning the rational choice. Hence, we have selected fishers as a group which is often recognised as less privileged, with no or little influence on MSP. Firstly, using semi-structured interviews, we investigated the ways in which fishers identify the challenges inhibiting their meaningful participation in MSP. The fishers pointed out data and knowledge gaps as well as a perceived limited agency in decision-making. However, misconceptions about MSP, i.e., equating MSP to off-shore wind farms, appeared to be the most significant short-term challenge. Secondly, through a focus group with MSP planners, we explored what the planners recognised as barriers to the fishers' active participation, and gauged the planners' awareness regarding the problems identified by the fishers. Both groups, fishers and planners, identified similar challenges. The major difference between these two groups was the issue of who should be responsible for addressing the concerns they identified. We conclude that much of the fishers’ reluctance towards MSP stemmed from their negative experiences in previous marine management initiatives, leading to a general lack of trust among the members of this group. We speculate that this lack of trust could have been diminished through a properly implemented stakeholder mapping in the pre-planning phase. However, the schedule stipulated by the EU MSP Directive, i.e., to prepare the plans before early 2021, did not allow the necessary time for the accomplishment of this step. We, thus, postulate that the stakeholder consultation process should be decoupled from formal MSP, and it should be most active in the pre-planning phase.