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Adaptation of fishing communities can benefit from integration of social-ecological systems thinking


10/11/2020 -

In order to understand “what we know, don’t know and need to know” in climate change adaptation in coupled human-natural systems, Diego Salgueiro Otero and Elena Ojea describe and compare different research disciplines that have been used to assess how small-scale fisheries worldwide face climate change. Climate change is a prominent sign of the human-driven changes to the global environment and its influence on the oceans is well known. In small-scale fisheries, a representative human-nature coupled system, humans closely interact with nature providing important social, cultural and economic benefits to societies. Climate change impacts threat such resources and livelihoods, often more so than in other marine systems.

Under the lens of a social-ecological systems (SES) perspective, we compare current theory about vulnerability assessments, coupled systems sustainability and adaptation behavior. We find a remarkable gap between theory and practice, with components of coupled systems that are not considered in the adaptation and vulnerability studies. Missing components are the ecosystems not directly used by the fishing activity, but with importance to fishing, for example nursery habitats. Another missing component in adaptation studies is the lack of focus on interactions between social and ecological domains, such as network activities, deliberation processes or sharing ecological information.

While these missing components are important for the theory on coupled systems, we find that adaptation studies oversight these issues. On contrast, we see that adaptation studies place a greater attention to the actors, governance and resource domains of fisheries, which are formally implicated in the fishing activity. On the basis of our findings, we propose a set of guidelines to better address adaptation in social-ecological systems by broadening the outlook of adaptation studies and policies, specifically by considering interactions, evaluating outcomes and integrating specific cultural and ecological variables.

This work was developed within the European Research Council funded project CLOCK (Climate Adaptation to Shifting Stocks), as part of Diego Salgueiro Otero PhD research, coordinated by Elena Ojea. Check out the article  “A better understanding of social-ecological systems is needed for adapting fisheries to climate change” in Marine Policy. It is available in open access.

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CATEGORIES: Clock, Diego Salgueiro, Elena Ojea, Future Oceans Lab, Research