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Vulnerability of resource users in Louisiana’s oyster fishery to environmental hazards

Austin T Humphries, Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Sciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA; Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI, USA
Lauren I Josephs, Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Sciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA
Megan K La Peyre, U.S. Geological Survey, Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit, School of Renewable Natural Resources, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Baton Rouge, LA, USA
Steven Hall, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA
Rachel Dowty Beech, Emergency Management Program, University of New Haven, New Haven, CT, USA


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Knowledge of vulnerability provides the foundation for developing actions that minimize impacts on people while maximizing the sustainability of ecosystem goods and services. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important to determine how resource-dependent people are vulnerable to environmental hazards. This idea is particularly true in coastal Louisiana, USA, where the current era of rapid land loss has the potential to undermine oyster fisheries. However, little is known about how such environmental change might differentially affect resource users and stakeholders. We examined social components of vulnerability to environmental hazards using indicators of susceptibility and adaptive capacity within the oyster fishery of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. Specifically, we used structured interviews to compare three resource-user roles: oyster fishers, oyster fishers/lease owners, and oyster lease owners only. Results indicated that oyster fishers/lease owners were highly dependent and thus susceptible to changes in the fishery because of high levels of occupational identity. These same people, however, were the most adaptable to change, which was reflected in their willingness to learn about new practices and evolve over time. Higher susceptibility in this group was offset by an increased ability to adapt, cope, and respond to changes in the environment. In contrast to these findings, oyster fishers that did not own any portion of a lease or business in which they operated were bad at coping with change and frequently held negative or fatalistic views on financial planning. These attributes made them the most vulnerable to environmental hazards. Overall, the most vulnerable participants in the Terrebonne Parish oyster fishery were those with low to moderate levels of personal and financial buffers and trust, coupled with high occupational identity and a low motivation to change. Local policy actions that target these attributes are likely to be the best entry points to reducing the vulnerability of stakeholders to hazards.

Key words

adaptation; Crassostrea virginica; fisheries; Gulf of Mexico; management; shellfish

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