‘Do you care about the river?’ A critical discourse analysis and lessons for management of social conflict over Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) conservation in the case of voluntary stocking in Wales
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1. Stakeholders with shared interests in fish conservation often disagree about which specific conservation measures are appropriate, leading to conflicts with sometimes long‐lasting and disruptive social and political effects. Managers are challenged to balance opposing stakeholder preferences with their own mandates in a charged environment. Using the 2014 termination of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) stocking in Wales as a case, we conducted a critical discourse analysis of interview data, online print media, social media and policy documents to examine conflict and its mechanisms over time. The data sources represented four discourse planes: the social, media, social media and policy planes. We report five key findings: 2. The conflict around salmon stocking took place in three stages, beginning with a negotiated, manifest conflict that escalated during the 2014 policy process that terminated stocking, creating a persistent spin‐off conflict. 3. The stocking debate was shaped by two discourse coalitions promoting either pro‐ or anti‐hatchery arguments, and an emerging third coalition advocating for compromise. The coalitions disagreed on the effectiveness of stocking, the status of the salmon stock and had different management goals, revealing that the proor anti‐stocking debate was caused by complex, intertwined and partly opposing beliefs and values. 4. Different elements of the discourses emerged on different planes and arguments were mobile across the planes over time, explaining how selected key arguments were able to persist, gain dominance, re‐appear over time, thus dynamically fuelling and (re)shaping the conflict. 5. The policy change decision to terminate stocking in Wales institutionalized antistocking discourses. It forced all stakeholder groups to acquiesce to one perspective of stocking, creating a win‐lose situation for some stakeholders.6. The handling and result of the policy change led to the alienation of some stakeholder groups. Ecological management goals were achieved in the short term, but the acrimonious and yet‐unsettled social side effects affected the long‐term relationships and may negatively impact future conservation issues in the area. 7. We conclude that transdisciplinary active management designed for joint learning about stocking trade‐offs may be a suitable alternative to the ‘either‐or’ outcomes observed in Wales that fostered sustained stakeholder conflicts instead of joint production of knowledge and understanding.