Salmon, sensors, and translation: The agency of Big Data in environmental governance

This paper explores the emerging role of Big Data in environmental governance. We focus on the case of salmon aquaculture management from 2011 to 2017 in Macquarie Harbour, Australia, and compare this with the foundational case that inspired the development of the concept of ‘translation’ in actor-network theory, that of scallop domestication in St Brieuc Bay, France, in the 1970s. A key difference is the salience of environmental data in the contemporary case. Recent dramatic events in the environmental governance of Macquarie Harbour have been driven by increasing spatial and temporal resolution of environmental monitoring, including real-time data collection from sensors mounted on the fish themselves. The resulting environmental data now takes centre stage in increasingly heated debates over how the harbour should be managed: overturning long-held assumptions about environmental interactions, inducing changes in regulatory practices and institutions, fracturing historical alliances and shaping the on-going legitimacy of the industry. Environmental Big Data is now a key actor within the networks that constitute and enact environmental governance. Given its new and unpredictable agency, control over access to data is likely to become critical in future power struggles over environmental resources and their governance.

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