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Resilience strategies in the face of short- and long-term change: out-migration and fisheries regulation in Alaskan fishing communities

Amber Himes-Cornell, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Kristin Hoelting, Colorado State University


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Historically, communities persisted in remote, isolated areas of Alaska in large part because of the abundance of marine and terrestrial resources, as well as the ability of local people to opportunistically access those resources as they became available. Species switching and the ability to shift effort away from fisheries during poor years allowed local residents to diversify their livelihoods in the face of uncertainties and ecological change. The advent of modern fisheries management, which views Alaskan fisheries as the property of all citizens of the United States, has fundamentally altered the relationship of place-based communities to fishery resources. Local access to fisheries has been particularly affected by the development of transferable fishing privileges, making it possible for fishing rights to leave place-based communities through the choices of individual community members to sell or to move away. When fishing communities in Alaska lose active fishing businesses, over time the loss of various types of community capital will follow, including human, social, cultural, technical, and financial capital. In some cases, communities are able to adapt or transform through diversification of their local economies. In other cases, no alternatives to a fishery-based economy are accessible. We have used resilience theory to explore drivers of change affecting Alaskan fishing communities. Emphasis was placed on two primary change drivers, the regulatory environment and rural out-migration, as well as their interconnections and their impacts on individuals, communities, and the larger social-ecological system. We summarized several government programs that have been implemented to support the continued participation of communities in Alaskan fisheries. In addition, we reviewed informal and private-sector efforts to generate resilience strategies that can facilitate new entry into fisheries or retain fishing businesses and fishing rights within communities, as well as respond to increasing uncertainty related to the global market and climate changes.

Key words

Alaska; communities; fisheries privatization; out-migration; resilience; well-being

Copyright © 2015 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