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A social-ecological approach to estimate fisher resilience: a case study from Brazil

Monalisa R. O. Silva, Fishing Ecology Management and Economics (FEME), Dept. of Ecology, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Brazil
Maria Grazia Pennino, Fishing Ecology Management and Economics (FEME), Dept. of Ecology, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Brazil; Statistical Modeling Ecology Group (SMEG), Departament d'Estadística i Investigació Operativa, Universitat de València, Spain; Instituto Español de Oceanografía, Vigo, Spain
Priscila F. M. Lopes, Fishing Ecology Management and Economics (FEME), Dept. of Ecology, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Brazil


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Social-ecological systems (SESs), such as fishing communities, are human and biophysical subsystems that are intrinsically connected to one another and strongly depend on natural resources. That is why these human groups are usually the first to feel the effects of policies concerning fisheries and ocean governance and the most affected by them. These policies can potentially build or erode social-ecological resilience (SER), especially if they are coupled with environmental changes. SER assessments offer a valuable tool to identify human-nature linkages, and the implications and feedbacks in SESs when facing human-induced or natural changes. We created a SER index by combining interviews with fishers with environmental datasets on a fine scale that has never been presented for the Brazilian coast. This scale was then tested in marine protected areas that allow sustainable use. Our approach estimated SER from information on fisheries ecosystem services and adaptive capacity at the local scale, considering the individual and community levels. We synthesized blocks of critical indicators of an individual or community’s ability to build and maintain resilience in SESs, such as flexibility, ability to learn, ability to organize, assets, social capital, and ecological characteristics. We identified that fishers’ ability to learn and to organize, as well as the biological sensitivity of an ecosystem are determinant to enhancing SER in the studied coastal communities. A Bayesian model also showed that the fishers’ SER was related to socioeconomic factors, thereby indicating that older fishers, fishers who consistently catch more fish, and fishers with a higher reliance on fishing for their income presented lower index values. By knowing the variables that influence the ability of fishers to cope with changes to their SESs, we can devise smarter management approaches that may include compensatory mechanisms for more fragile fishers. Our findings can also inform decision making about where fisheries management strategies are likely to be more participative and effective in order to minimize the social impacts of policy decisions and increase SER in coastal communities.

Key words

adaptive capacity; coastal management; decision making; social capital; vulnerability.

Copyright © 2020 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