Vulnerability and Resilience of Fishing Communities

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Why use indicators of vulnerability and resilience to evaluate the response of fishing communities to change? The approach is grounded in a broader social science effort to gauge the ability of social groups to adapt to change. Social vulnerability and resilience highlight the importance of the relationship between people and the environment. The terms vulnerability and resilience have multiple meaning and interpretations to different people. By developing this model, we are defining the terms for our purposes. That is, in the context of a community’s response to management actions.

An example of community response to change

  • Pre-Event: Imagine a fishing community that is highly dependent on a certain species of fish and has a strong sense of community spirit (e.g., high participation in community events).
  • Event: A new stock assessment indicates that the primary fish species the community depends on is being overfished. The council reduces the Annual Catch Limit (ACL) by 100,000 pounds.
  • Immediate Adaptive Response: The reduction in ACL causes several vessels to reduce crew. One person sells his vessel and one fish house closes.
  • Post-Event Impact: Because of these changes, the community no longer holds fish frys and not enough people are available to work the annual fish festival. This translates into less money raised for lobbying by the local fishing organization. Several families are forced to move from the community and overall social networks are weakened as key people are no longer available for support work and leadership within the community.
  • The Bottom Line: All of these factors have affected the community’s inherent resilience capacity which in turn will feed back into the community’s vulnerability, or its ability to address future disruptions. Although our primary focus is on fishery regulations and policies, a social disruption could come from aspects of the economy outside of the fishing industry and may affect other social networks within the community. This model could apply to any coastal community and could accommodate other types of natural or man-made disruptions.