Small-scale fisheries are in decline, negatively impacting sources of food and employment for coastal communities. Therefore, we need to assess how biological and socio-economic conditions influence vulnerability, or a community's susceptibility to loss and consequent ability to adapt. We characterized two Philippine fishing communities, Gulod and Buagsong with similar seagrass and fish species composition, and compared their social vulnerability, or pre-existing conditions likely to influence their response to changes in the fishing resource. Using a place-based model of vulnerability, we used household, fisher, landing and underwater surveys to compare their sensitivity and adaptive capacity.
Depending on the scale assessed, each community and group within the community differed in their social vulnerability. The Buagsong community was less socially vulnerable, or less sensitive to pertubations to the seagrass resource because it was closer to a major urban center that provided salaried income. When we assessed seagrass fishers as a group within each community, we found that Gulod fishers had greater adaptive capacity than Buagsong fishers because they diversified their catch, gear types, and income sources. We found catch that comprised the greatest landing biomass did not have the highest market value, and fishers continued to capture high value items at low biomass levels. A third of intertidal gleaners were women, and their participation in the fishery enhanced household adaptive capacity by providing additional food and income, in an otherwise male-dominated fishery.
Our research indicates that community context is not the only determinant of social vulnerability, because groups within the community may decrease their sensitivity, enhance their adaptive capabilities, and ultimately reduce social vulnerability by diversifying income sources, seagrass based catches, and workforces to include women.