Perceived impacts of climate change, coastal development and policy on oyster harvesting in the Southeastern United States
Oyster harvest has long been an important industry of the eastern coast of the United States. However, coastal development, overfishing and climate change are threatening this industry and way of life. This study examines the perspectives of oyster harvesters and merchants in Brunswick County, North Carolina, USA to explore their capacity to adapt to these changing conditions. Using in-person, semi-structured interviews researchers collected information from seventeen interviewees, generating qualitative data that were analyzed using MAXQDA software. From the data collected several themes emerged revealing mixed sentiments on the impacts of climate change but a widespread sense that development and regulations threaten livelihoods and cultural heritage. This social–ecological system (SES), created through centuries of regulation, is experiencing rapid population growth with concurrent coastal development; it also includes oyster industry workers who have limited voice in decision-making but are affected by the political ecology of the region. Deliberately including oyster harvesters and merchants when formulating and implementing policy can help to strengthen the adaptive capacity of this SES while sustaining Brunswick County׳s coastal heritage.