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Local knowledge and democracy in fisheries management: a case study of adaptation to the Anthropocene in southeast Louisiana

Jacob E. Lipsman, University of Kansas


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The onset of the Anthropocene necessitates new forms of environmental planning and management as communities adapt to new ecological realities. Despite the global reach of the Anthropocene, localized adaptation strategies are critical for a successful transition into this new epoch. Within local contexts, inclusive, democratic political processes facilitate complex and effective ecological solutions to social problems resulting from environmental change. Genuine incorporation of local knowledge into the decision-making process is critical to fostering this ecological democracy and building effective adaptation strategies. Coastal systems are important nexus points to investigate the relationship between environmental problems and social processes. Fisheries are a critical piece of coastal systems that sustain local communities and the larger economy.

I provide a case study of local adaptation to ecological changes as the State of Louisiana attempts to protect vulnerable communities, infrastructure, and fisheries through coastal planning and management. Louisiana’s fisheries are a critical asset that stand to be significantly impacted by continuing coastal erosion. Like the Anthropocene itself, Louisiana’s coastal erosion crisis is largely the result of human intervention in the biosphere for social and economic purposes. The state’s adaptive response is an ambitious master plan that seeks to rebuild the coast and protect its communities and economic interests. Although the plan is ambitious and generally lauded, I argue that the top-down approach the State of Louisiana uses in setting coastal priorities undercuts the plan’s efficacy by struggling to incorporate local knowledge and establish a trusting relationship with coastal stakeholders. Without a genuinely deliberative process that bridges across scales and knowledge systems, the state will ultimately struggle to draw in local knowledge, inhibiting comanagement of local fisheries and potentially undermining the ecological solutions it aims to achieve.

Key words

adaptation; Anthropocene; coastal restoration; comanagement; expertise; local knowledge; Louisiana; risk; trust

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087