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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Stakeholder Perspectives on Blue Mussel Farming to Mitigate Baltic Sea Eutrophication

Zilinskaite, Emilija; Blicharska, Malgorzata; Futter, Martyn


Here, we present an application of systems thinking to controlling Baltic Sea eutrophication-a wicked environmental problem characterized by multiple stakeholder perspectives and no single, agreed upon solution. The Baltic Sea is one of the most polluted waterbodies in the world. More than 40 years of land-based (linear) measures have failed to adequately control eutrophication, yet internal (circular) measures are rarely used. Farming native blue mussels for nutrient capture has been proposed as one measure for eutrophication control, but the relevant stakeholders disagree as to its environmental, social and economic benefits. Here, we present the views of four Swedish stakeholder groups-academics, entrepreneurs, municipal government employees and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)-on the sustainability of native blue mussel farming, a circular measure for eutrophication control. Using semi-structured interviews, we elicited stakeholder perspectives on the environmental, economic and social dimensions of blue mussel farming. The interviewees generally agreed that blue mussel farming is not currently economically sustainable, but that it can contribute to the social sustainability of coastal regions. Academics were skeptical of the environmental benefits, claiming that farms could reinforce eutrophication, whereas the remaining stakeholder groups argued for its potential to mitigate eutrophication. In a roundtable discussion conducted one year after the original interviews, all stakeholder groups agreed that blue mussel farming alone will not fix Baltic Sea eutrophication, but can be part of the solution together with land-based measures. All groups also agreed on the need for cautious upscaling, continuous environmental monitoring and constant improvement if blue mussel farms are to be part of a "toolkit" for eutrophication control. Our results highlight the fact that wicked environmental problems can be addressed when multiple stakeholder groups with differing perspectives have the opportunity to achieve consensus through dialog.


Baltic Sea; blue mussel farming; circular economy; eutrophication; nature-based solutions; stakeholder collaboration; systems thinking

Published in

2021, Volume: 13, number: 16, article number: 9180
Publisher: MDPI

      SLU Authors

      • Sustainable Development Goals

        SDG14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

        UKÄ Subject classification

        Environmental Management
        Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

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