Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

The Dogger Bank: understanding stakeholder and policy-maker needs

The research assessed the impact of the implementation of EU nature protection legislation in the Dogger Bank which is a shallow sandbank with a habitat of high environmental value. With a total area of 18,700 km2, it is the largest sandbank in the North Sea and notably one that extends over the exclusive economic zones of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. The research analysed how the implementation of EU nature protection legislation works in offshore marine areas while focusing on the following two main issues. First, attempts by Member States to coordinate the implementation of EU nature protection measures. Second, conflicts and conflict resolution mechanisms between different types of stakeholders (e.g. fishermen and environmental groups). The Dogger Bank’s main economic user is currently the international fishing industry. Wind energy producers will become another significant user in the UK exclusive economic zone.


On the initiative of the Dutch government, officials from Germany, the Netherlands and the UK formed a transnational Dogger Bank Steering Group in which the European Commission and Denmark have observer status. The Dogger Bank Steering Group tried to negotiate the establishment of coordinated national fisheries management measures.

The Natura 2000 network forms the main pillar of the EU’s nature conservation policy. It is an EU-wide network of protected areas which was established under the 1992 Habitats Directive, incorporating also those protected areas that had already been established under the 1979 Birds Directive. The main objective of the Habitats Directive is ‘to contribute towards ensuring bio-diversity through the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora’. The Habitats Directive therefore obliges Member States to set up a network of nationally designated Special Areas of Conservation in which they are required to implement the necessary measures to reach a favourable conservation status. Since 2004, first Germany and then the Netherlands followed by the UK, started the designation process to establish marine protected areas in their respective parts of the Dogger Bank. In March 2003, the Dogger Bank Steering Group invited a transnational stakeholder group to formulate its own proposal for an international fisheries management plan for the Dogger Bank. The North Sea Regional Advisory Council, which set up a Focus Group for Marine Spatial Planning, was identified as a suitable forum for the stakeholder negotiations.


Stakeholders with different views and interests tried to arrive at a compromise proposal for a fisheries management plan in the Dogger Bank. They used the North Sea Regional Advisory Council as a negotiating forum for their negotiations which eventually failed to reach a compromise.

The Dogger Bank Steering Group encouraged stakeholders - primarily representatives from the fishing industry and environmental groups – to use the North Sea Regional Advisory Council to agree on a compromise proposal for a fisheries management plan for the Dogger Bank. The negotiating process constituted a novel bottom-up process which was dominated by stakeholders rather than governmental and EU institutional actors (such as the European Commission). The North Sea Regional Advisory Council decision-making process was unique in two respects. First, it diverged from traditional methods of both EU decision-making and international environmental diplomacy by encouraging the involvement of a relatively wide range of stakeholders at an early stage of the EU decision-making process. The aim was to produce a stakeholder endorsed compromise proposal for a fisheries management plan. Second, it brought together stakeholders who, due to their conflicting interests and views, often find it difficult to work together. Within the North Sea Regional Advisory Council the main line of conflict ran between users (mainly the fishing industry) and those stakeholders who wanted to achieve as high a level of environmental protection as possible (environmental groups). The differences in views and interest amongst the stakeholders who participated in this novel negotiating process eventually turned out to be unbridgeable although great efforts were made to reach a compromise.


This case study demonstrated that participation by stakeholders in the negotiations of fisheries management plans requires substantial investment in terms of staff, time and commitment. It is unrealistic to expect quick results from a novel and complex learning-by-doing negotiating process between stakeholders with different interests.

The stakeholders had to invest considerable staff time and resources into the negotiations of a fisheries management plan within the negotiation forum of the North Sea Regional Advisory Council. Their ability to do this was constrained by limited staff and financial resources. In the course of the negotiations some stakeholders became frustrated because they felt that their expectations had not been fulfilled. One of the major points of disagreement centred on the actual percentage figures for the designated areas to which restrictions on (certain types of) fishery activity should apply. The terms of reference which were adopted by the Dogger Bank Steering Group in November 2011, required that the proposal of the stakeholders represented in the North Sea Regional Advisory Council should provide for a zone in which fishing would be restricted to gears which do not cause harm to the habitat. This zone was to cover 25-55% of the total Special Areas of Conservation. However, there was a fundamental disagreement between the fishing industry and environmental groups, on the percentage issue, which could not be resolved. Stakeholders complained about unrealistic deadlines and a lack of clarity about various points in the terms of reference.

Conflict resolution strategies need to take into account the different interests of the main stakeholders and be sensitive to cultural differences and environmental policy styles. Different government departments involved in Dogger Bank management issues often had different objectives.

The Dutch environmental policy style is generally perceived as being inclusive of stakeholders. However, not all interviewees perceived the Dogger Bank process was always engaging and open for all stakeholders. The transnational Dogger Bank process is perceived as a prestige project in the Netherlands which is a country with a strong mediator tradition in international environmental negotiations. The German environmental policy style is relatively pro-active and consensual. The precautionary and cooperation principles are important guiding principles for German environmental policy makers. The UK’s environmental policy style is often seen as consensual and reactive, recognising the need for the integration of environmental objectives into other policy sectors while putting a strong emphasis on scientific expertise. In Germany, the Environment Ministry deals with environmental and nature protection issues and the Agriculture Ministry is responsible for fisheries issues. In the Netherlands the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation shares Dogger Bank management competences with the Ministry for Infrastructure and Environment. In Denmark the competences are also split between two ministries. The UK is the only Dogger Bank country in which one single ministry, Department of Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs, holds the competences for both environmental and fisheries issues. However, offshore wind farms fall under the competences of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Common Fisheries Policy
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy
  • Habitats and Birds Directive
  • Integrated European Maritime Policy (IMP)
  • Marine and Coastal Access Act
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive

Lead Author:

Rüdiger Wurzel and Jonathan Atkins
University of Hull (UHULL)
Date of research: February 2014

Related articles:

Deliberative valuation and the Dogger Bank 

Develop risk assessments leading to best practice

Co-existence in busy seas: the primary sectors 

Changes on stocks and management in saithe fishery 

Conflicts of interests in the Sinis MPA (Sardinia)

Ecosystem service changes in an offshore MPA

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.