communities can survive -- and even thrive -- as fish abundance and market
prices shift if they can catch a variety of species and nimbly move from one
fishery to the next.
findings, published Jan. 14 in Nature Communications, draw upon 34 years of
data collected in more than 100 fishing communities in Alaska that depend on
fishing for livelihoods, cultural traditions and daily subsistence. The
University of Washington researchers found that communities that fished for
many different species and had the ability to shift what they harvested and
when, were more resilient to unpredictable downturns in fish abundance and
market prices than communities that put all their effort into only a few
study is about starting the conversation about how communities can buffer
themselves against unpredictable ecosystem changes in the future," said
lead author Timothy Cline, a doctoral student in the UW's School of Aquatic and
Fishery Sciences. "There is no reason why any community in the world that
depends on renewable resources could not benefit from this approach."
their analysis, the researchers used common financial principles to illustrate
how fishing communities can buffer against market and ecosystem shifts.
Maintaining a diverse portfolio of fishing permits, for example, ensures that a
community can switch to halibut or Dungeness crab if salmon take a turn for the
worse. Just like with financial stocks, each fishery might not deliver at the
same time, but that diversity allows for stability in the long run.
systems can collapse if they have no ability to roll with the punches and adapt
when ecosystems re-express themselves," said co-author Daniel Schindler, a
UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. "This analysis shows that
the communities that did not suffer from oceanic regime shifts were those that
could adapt to changes in the quantity and composition of natural
researchers looked specifically at the average fishing revenue in 106 Alaskan
communities for 10 years before and after 1989, a year when the North Pacific
Ocean experienced a significant shift in productivity and abrupt changes in the
composition of marine food webs, while at the same time the global price for
salmon dropped because of competition from farm-raised fish.
fishing in Alaska provides $1.3 billion in annual income from harvest alone,
and in some remote areas fishing is the only major industry.
Alaskan communities lost more than half of their revenue following 1989.
However, the researchers found that communities with the highest level of
diversity in what they fished for saw little or no change in revenue.
Specifically, communities that had high diversity were able to shift to
different fisheries after 1989, and some even increased their revenue streams
by leveraging new and emerging fish markets.
found that well-diversified communities also had higher turnover, or the
ability to go out and fish for species that are more abundant while relying
less on those that declined," Cline said. "If you are diversified,
it's just a matter of focusing on fisheries that are more abundant or more
valuable, and if you're not diversified, that means adapting your portfolio by
selling what you had and buying something new."
authors recognize this can be difficult for individual fishermen - fishing
permits are expensive and can be hard to obtain. When dispersed across the
community level, however, individuals could still specialize, but differently
from their neighbor. For example, one subset could fish for pink salmon, while
another tackles halibut or Dungeness crab. Revenues from these efforts are felt
throughout the community.
this approach promotes a powerful shared identity, the authors explain.
intrinsic value in the identity of being a fishing community," Schindler
said. "That sense of community identity is basically reinforced by the
fact that the community is adapting to the ecosystem, which is always
rich dataset used in this analysis, provided by the Alaska Commercial Fisheries
Entry Commission, was invaluable in allowing the researchers to test concepts
of diversification and turnover -- switching to catch more abundant fish --
which have been put forth in other papers as ways of managing human interactions
with natural resources.
principles could be applied to fisheries around the world, and many small
fishing communities already diversify naturally, the authors explained.
Traditional science tends to emphasize gathering data to make better predictions
of how natural resources will fare, but perhaps that isn't the best approach
when managing resources in a highly variable and unpredictable environment,
ongoing climate change, population growth and ocean acidification, the question
is, what's the future going to look like? We should expect the
unexpected," Schindler said. "Then the question becomes, what can we
do to develop resilient communities for what is guaranteed to be an unexpected
40 years ago most fishermen were generalists, and switched between fish stocks
as they fluctuated, the efforts to reduce overall fishing effort has generally
forced fishermen to specialize in a small number of fisheries, said co-author
Ray Hilborn, a UW professor in aquatic and fishery sciences. "We need to
explore ways to allow flexibility while still restraining the total
work was funded by the National Science Foundation.