New ideas on how the social sciences could change the way we do ocean conservation and management – and already are


“Successful management and conservation of marine ecosystems depends as much on understanding humans as it does on understanding marine organisms and their environment …The social sciences – economics, political science, sociology, anthropology, history, psychology, law, and more – are the formal examination of human society. They study how societies function, how individuals in a society relate to one another, and the institutions societies form. Insights and data from these disciplines in ocean planning are essential to understanding how people use the marine environment, and how they create and may react to new and different forms of ocean governance.”

                                                                                    -----MEAM, October 2015

In October 2015, MEAM heard from four social scientists from a range of disciplines about some of the most exciting ways they see – or would like to see – the social sciences being incorporated into ocean planning. Now, two years later, we are updating our coverage of this topic to learn more about current research and practices with great potential to improve ocean conservation and management.

For this article, we interviewed 17 social science and interdisciplinary researchers working all over the world to learn what aspect of their research and practices they feel has the most potential to improve ocean conservation and management. To select a panel of social science practitioners to interview, we surveyed the ~ 4,600 members of the EBM Tools Network interactive discussion list and the MEAM editorial board for recommendations of ocean conservation and management-related social science work they find particularly innovative, exciting, and/or useful. In addition, we contacted the lead authors of numerous recent (published in 2016 and 2017) social science and human dimensions research papers that seemed particularly relevant.[1]

Here is what we learned – we hope you find reading these research and practice “profiles” as energizing and inspiring for your own work as we found editing them.

Nathan Bennett: A code of conduct for marine conservation is needed to include local people and reduce negative social impacts

Editor’s note: Nathan Bennett is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia and an affiliated researcher with the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. He was formerly a visiting Fulbright Scholar at the University of Washington and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia. He can be contacted at nathan.bennett [at] and on Twitter @NathanJBennett.

What I am working on: A recent publication I was lead author on entitled “An appeal for a code of conduct for marine conservation” has the potential to change the way that conservation is done. This paper, which emerged from a large group effort, is partially a response to emerging critiques that some marine conservation initiatives are implemented in a manner that excludes local people or produces negative social impacts. When this occurs, the question has even been raised whether marine conservation is a form of “ocean grabbing”. We need to learn from these past mistakes and move forward in a good way.

Potential and observed influence: While there are codes of conduct in other realms, such as medicine or teaching, there is no broadly applicable social contract to guide the actions of governments and organizations that are promoting conservation or the investments of the marine funding community. However, there is significant interest among marine conservation professionals about how to ensure that their actions conform with best practices. The idea of a code of conduct has even been taken up by the GEF-funded Blue Forests Project, which put forward the code as a voluntary commitment at the UN Oceans Conference in June of this year. I believe we will see more uptake of the code of conduct within the marine conservation community.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: The ideas that humans need to be considered and that due process needs to be followed are applicable to all manner of marine conservation and environmental management initiatives. When local communities are not considered, this can lead to opposition, backlash and even failure. This is not an ideal outcome for anyone. In fisheries, for example, correct diagnosis of the human factors that are causing overfishing is required to design effective management. Even large-scale marine protected areas, which can be greater than 100,000 square miles, need to consider the livelihoods, food security needs, and cultural meanings ascribed to these vast tracts of the sea. Creative solutions are needed to ensure that marine conservation fits different social, cultural and political contexts. Social science is a useful tool to help achieve this goal.

Learn more: Learn more about my work here.

David Shiffman: Virtual ethnographies can provide critical information on fisher behavior, knowledge, and attitudes

Editor’s note: David Shiffman is a postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University and a senior correspondent for Southern Fried Science. He can be contacted at david.shiffman [at] and on Twitter @WhySharksMatter.

What I am working on: We recently analyzed publicly-visible discussions in an online forum widely used by land-based shark anglers (fishers) in south Florida. The discussion forum has years of publicly-available information that can be used to determine angler knowledge and attitudes, as well as trends in fishing practices over time. We found that a group of recreational shark anglers in Florida knowingly handles protected sharks illegally – a significant conservation issue for these species. Previously, folks had assumed that illegal handling was a minor problem and/or that anglers weren't aware that they were breaking the rules.

Potential and observed influence: Many of our findings – e.g., that many land-based anglers 1) believe that that they are not a threat to sharks and should not be regulated, 2) feel less politically powerful than other stakeholders, 3) have a strong conservation ethic, and 4) have hostile attitudes towards environmentalists, scientists, and regulators – have important implications for recreational fisheries management, particularly with respect to enforcement of existing laws and developing strategies for influencing these stakeholders.

Learn more: Read a jargon-free summary of our paper and find a link to an open access author copy here.

Vineeta Hoon and Maria Pena: Socioeconomic monitoring empowers communities

Editor’s note: Vineeta is a founder and trustee of the Centre for Action Research on Environment, Science and Society (CARESS India). Maria Pena is a project assistant at the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the University of the West Indies. Vineeta and Maria are the regional coordinators for the Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative for Coastal Management’s (SocMon’s) South Asia and English-speaking Caribbean regions respectively. Vineeta Hoon can be contacted at vineetahoon [at] Maria Pena can be contacted at maria.pena [at]

What we are working on: SocMon is an approach and set of tools that has evolved over the last decades to facilitate coastal planning, management, and sustainable use. SocMon has been working through regional and local partners since 2003 to facilitate community-based socioeconomic monitoring in communities living in coastal regions of the world. Household and community-level data are collected to inform planners and decision-makers about levels of dependence on coral reef resources, perceptions of resource conditions, threats to marine and coastal resources, and support for marine management strategies such as marine protected areas. To date, over 72 assessments have been completed in 36 countries.

Potential and observed influence: The application and incorporation of SocMon into coastal and marine management planning and monitoring has increased globally. In some regions such as South Asia, SocMon has been a means of community empowerment – providing stakeholders and communities with a voice with which they now can press for co-management arrangements with management authorities, lobby for establishment of community reserves, and advocate for changes or bans in fishing techniques and the recognition of customary laws and traditions. In Brazil, SocMon was institutionalized and adopted by government agencies including the Brazilian environmental agency. In the Pacific, the methodology is being incorporated into planning processes. In the Caribbean, SocMon is being linked with ecological monitoring and integrated with participatory GIS by using SocMon Spatial for visualization of socioeconomic data and information.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: The goal of the global SocMon initiative is for the methodology to be applied to and incorporated as a regular component of ecosystem-based management, marine protected area and fisheries management planning, management effectiveness evaluation, sustainable livelihoods analyses, marine spatial planning, and climate change adaptation and disaster risk management. Large international projects and programs such as GEF International Waters and Large Marine Ecosystem initiatives are important avenues for this. Networking to strengthen partnerships with large international NGOs and regional coastal and marine projects is ongoing.

Learn more: Learn more about SocMon here.

Claire Armstrong: Including additional ecosystem services in fisheries models can lead to more conservation-focused management recommendations

Editor’s note: Claire Armstrong is a professor at the Norwegian College of Fishery Science. She can be contacted at claire.armstrong [at]

What I am working on: My main field of research is bioeconomic modeling in relation to fisheries. The expansion of these models to incorporate more ecosystem services than just fish is something I find very important. Through valuation studies we are discovering that the general public cares about more than just commercial resources from the sea. Incorporating these values into fisheries models can potentially change the optimal management outcomes, leading to more conservation-focused recommendations, something we have found to be the case when studying cold water corals. When including cold water coral non-use values in a fisheries model, it clearly impacted the optimal choice of fishing gear, encouraging gear with less benthic impacts and conserving more cold water coral habitats.

Potential and observed influence: Part of this research requires surveys of the general public, and we have observed great interest and enthusiasm when we have carried out workshop-style surveys regarding the valuation of something as little-known as cold water corals. We also find that people are not only preoccupied with charismatic deep sea resources but have strong preferences for conserving environments for fish in the sea. I would say that the growing awareness of things like discarding, plastics in the sea, etc. shows strong and growing interest for marine environmental issues, which hopefully will spill over into management.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: I hope that managers and policy makers understand that good fisheries management requires taking into account the effects that fisheries have on other marine resources rather than just the targeted fish. Over time this will hopefully lead to more holistic management of the sea, moving away from the sectoral disconnect we see today, where activities in the ocean are organized in a number of different ministries and departments with limited interaction.

Learn more: Learn more about this research here.

Willow Battista: Behavioral science-based interventions can reduce illegal fishing

Editor’s note: Willow Battista is a research specialist at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). She can be contacted at willowbe [at]

What I am working on: Colleagues from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Universidad de los Andes, Monash University, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur and I are researching ways to apply lessons from the social and behavioral sciences to improve fishery management outcomes. Fisheries management outcomes depend on the decisions and behaviors of key actors within fishery management systems. If the drivers of decisions that are either aligned or not aligned with good management outcomes can be understood and influenced, interventions designed to influence these drivers could improve outcomes. We started with the problem of illegal fishing. We’ve created a step-by-step process, based on the tenets of social marketing, human-centered design, and best practices in experimentation, to guide the development of novel, empirically-supported interventions to reduce illegal fishing in any fishery/ community in the world. We’ve spent the past 1.5 years applying the first steps in this process in a community in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico. By understanding and targeting the hidden cognitive, social, and psychological drivers of the illegal fishing behaviors at play in a given community, we hope to create durable, long-term behavioral changes that make fisheries more sustainable and fishing communities more prosperous – even in fisheries where surveillance and enforcement capacity is unlikely to ever be sufficient to deter illegal fishing.

Potential and observed influence: We have been working to apply this process in the community of El Golfo de Santa Clara, in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico. Many lucrative fisheries in Mexico are based in this region, and it is one of the most highly managed areas in the country. Despite these efforts, the area is plagued by poaching and illegal fishing that results in unknown amounts of fishing mortality and undermines management efforts. We began by conducting extensive surveys with fishers and other members of this community to discern the cognitive, social, and psychological drivers of the illegal fishing behaviors we hoped to reduce. We then conducted a series of experiments using common pool resource games with local fishers as participants to test and refine behavioral science-based interventions to change these drivers. We were excited to find statistically significant reductions in illegal fishing behaviors in one of our treatments in this experimental setting (i.e., one of our behavioral interventions proved effective), and we think there is excellent real-world potential for this intervention. Unfortunately, this project is currently on hold because of the extensive management changes and fishing gear bans that are being implemented in the Upper Gulf in an effort to save the endangered vaquita porpoise.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: We believe the lessons of the social and behavioral sciences could be applied to improve outcomes in many marine conservation and management efforts. Wherever human behavior is the root of the problem, behavioral science-based interventions could potentially be part of the solution. To the best of our knowledge, our project in the Upper Gulf represents the first such attempt to address illegal fishing with this type of approach, and we are both encouraged by the results of our experiments and disappointed that we may not be able to continue this effort in the field. We are actively seeking other fisheries/ geographies that might be interested in exploring the potential of applying our step-by-step process to develop interventions to reduce illegal fishing or address other behavioral challenges that may be reducing the efficacy of management in their communities.

Learn more: Our work developing behavioral science-based interventions for illegal fishing has not been published or captured online yet, but you can read more about relevant issues and EDF’s other ongoing work in the Upper Gulf of California here. You can learn more about the types of behavioral science lessons and tenets that we think can be used to improve conservation outcomes here, here, and here. If you are interested in applying our step-by-step process for developing behavioral interventions in your fishery/community or partnering with us to do so, please email Dr. Rod Fujita at rfujita [at]

Kelly Biedenweg: Identifying metrics of human wellbeing associated with coastal habitats can promote ecosystem recovery and enhance benefits of region to local people

Editor’s note: Kelly Biedenweg is an assistant professor at Oregon State University. She can be contacted at kelly.biedenweg [at]

What I am working on: I am just starting a project with funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency to work with watershed organizations in the Puget Sound of Washington State to integrate ecosystem services and human wellbeing in their strategic planning process. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to translate what we know about how diverse people value and use the region to address the threats to the estuary while ensuring that the costs and benefits of those activities are more transparent and better distributed across human populations. Moreover, we hope to find more win-win solutions, where ecosystem recovery can happen while simultaneously enhancing the ability of local people to enjoy the benefits of the region.

Potential and observed influence: Over the past five years my lab has been working to identify metrics of human wellbeing associated with coastal habitats so that we can better inform coastal management. These metrics include indicators of psychological, physical, social, and cultural health in addition to economic viability and environmental governance. As a result of this research, the Puget Sound Partnership (a Washington State agency) adopted nine new indicators of human health and wellbeing as part of their regular monitoring of ecosystem health. Society often places more emphasis on things we measure, so the adoption of these indicators by a resource management agency is a huge step toward application of social-ecological science.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: What types of ocean planning shouldn’t use this work???

Learn more: You can read more about this work here.

Richard Pollnac: The social impacts of fisheries management actions, including the job satisfaction of fishers, needs to be considered

Editor’s note: Richard Pollnac is a professor at the University of Rhode Island. He can be contacted at pollnacrb [at]

What I am working on: My research, conducted with colleagues John Poggie and Tarsila Seara and other collaborators, indicates that for the most part fishers worldwide love and have a strong adherence to their occupation – in fact many attempts to move fishers into alternative occupations such as vessel buy-back programs and retraining have failed. The aspects of fishing that are most significant to fishers everywhere and are important in producing job satisfaction are the adventure, thrill of the chase after their elusive prey, and being outdoors. The attitudes fishers have towards their occupation are related to a general psychological factor identified as an externalizing disposition, which has a large genetic component. Job satisfaction is extremely important because job dissatisfaction has been related to a host of negative social-psychological and health effects such as reduced overall well-being, job turnover, psychosomatic illness, heart disease, and impaired social relationships including family violence. Our most recent research has identified that aspects of the occupation serve as therapy to avoid the negative consequences of job dissatisfaction.

Potential and observed influence: In the late 1970s, we examined the structure of job satisfaction among New England fishers. A report was sent to the New England Fisheries Management Council and resulted in nothing. In 2004 the Office of Science and Technology of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service invited a group of marine fisheries social scientists to create a conceptual model for predicting the social impacts of fishery management action alternatives which included job satisfaction as one of the key predictors of overall well-being. Since then, NOAA Fisheries has funded several research projects which included evaluating the importance of job satisfaction as a predictor of well-being.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: With regard to impact assessment, evaluations should be made using a weighted combination of biological, economic, social, and psychological variables. This is especially important if the anticipated changes involve displacement of current fishers from the fishery. Planned alternative occupations should have characteristics that provide some of the same satisfactions as the fishery being evaluated.

Learn more: In addition to the embedded links above, you can learn more about our research here, here, here, and here.

David Gill: We need to understand how, when, and why positive outcomes emerge from marine conservation initiatives

Editor’s note: David Gill is a postdoctoral fellow with Conservation International and George Mason University. He can be contacted at dgill [at] and Twitter @davidgillmarine.

What I am working on: My research focuses on the linkages between social and ecological components of marine systems and how resource management affects these components and their interactions. The part of my work that excites me most right now is my research on the social and ecological impacts of marine conservation. For example, MPAs are often promoted as providing synergistic social and ecological benefits or “win-wins”. However, the relationships between MPA establishment and their subsequent impacts are often unclear, as are the governance and management conditions that lead to the desired “win-win” outcomes. A large part of this knowledge gap is due to the limited evidence on the social impacts of MPAs. Although some MPAs may increase income, food security, health, political empowerment, and overall community development, evidence also indicates cases of lost income (particularly fishers), marginalizing of disadvantaged groups, and exacerbated conflict. By understanding how, when, and why positive outcomes emerge from marine conservation initiatives, I hope to provide insights as to how to better design and manage marine interventions that lead to more socially and ecologically sustainable outcomes.

Potential and observed influence: I have just begun this aspect of my research, so I don’t think there has been much impact on the ground yet. However, in the short space of time since my MPA work was published, it is encouraging to see others start to incorporate some of the results into guidance documents (e.g. Global Ocean Refuge System award criteria).

Applicability of this work elsewhere: Although my current work focuses on MPAs, I believe it has applications to other conservation interventions. By identifying the aspects of management that are most strongly linked to positive outcomes, we can strategically direct resources into areas that will result in a greater return on investment, such as investing in building human and financial capacity to adequately manage MPAs.

Learn more: Learn more about my research here and here.

Emmanuel Mbaru and Michele Barnes: Understanding and utilizing social networks can increase adoption and diffusion of conservation initiatives

Editor’s note: Emmanuel Mbaru is a research officer with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute and a PhD candidate at James Cook University. He can be contacted at emmanuel.mbaru [at] and on Twitter @mbaru08. Michele Barnes is a research fellow at the University of Hawaii and a visiting scholar at James Cook University. She can be contacted at michele.barnes [at]

What we are working on: We are working on understanding the factors that influence the adoption and diffusion of conservation initiatives. What we have found most exciting is that our findings suggest that key socioeconomic factors – such as age, education, and prior knowledge of the innovation – are important determinants of whether people will adopt conservation initiatives. But people’s relationships also matter – for example having network partners with prior knowledge of the conservation initiative is key to creating awareness about the initiative and initiating adoption behaviour. We’re also finding that the degree to which people are connected to other people plays a major role and that certain locations in the structure of social networks can facilitate more widespread diffusion of certain initiatives after they have been adopted. This is exciting because it allows us to identify key people to engage with to facilitate more widespread adoption and diffusion of conservation ideas and practises.

Potential and observed influence: From our work, we have drafted guidelines for identifying key players to engage to facilitate more widespread adoption and diffusion, and are tracking how these guidelines perform in a case study using the introduction of a more sustainable trap-based fishing gear along the Kenyan coast. We are working closely with the Kenya Department of Fisheries and local NGOs to roll out this project in six fishing villages. Pilot studies indicate meaningful reductions in bycatch (i.e., catch of undersized and unwanted fish) without losses of income when these new traps are adopted. In the past, the introduction of traps has had limited success in addressing resource overexploitation and bycatch because of non-adoption. Though our project is still ongoing, initial results suggest that the guidelines we have created will facilitate more widespread adoption and diffusion, leading to better conservation outcomes.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: Our approach has wide significance and appeal for many research and intervention areas, such as community development studies, participatory research, community intervention, and behaviour change. For all areas of ocean planning and management, our work can be applied to facilitate widespread adoption and diffusion of simple initiatives such as rapid environmental awareness campaigns as well as more complex initiatives that seek to implement behaviour change to improve conservation outcomes.

Learn more: You can read our guidelines for selecting ‘key players’ better positioned to successfully implement four distinct conservation objectives here. You can learn more about the award-winning gear-based conservation innovation here and here. And you can learn more about the work being done in our lab on the role of social networks in natural resource management and governance here.

Chris Cvitanovic: Boundary organizations and knowledge brokers can link marine science to action

Editor’s note: Chris Cvitanovic is a research fellow in the Centre for Marine Socio-ecology at the University of Tasmania. He can be contacted at christopher.cvitanovic [at] or on Twitter @ChrisCvitanovic.

What I am working on: Much of my research is focused on developing empirically grounded guidance to help improve knowledge exchange among marine scientists and decision-makers. The most exciting aspect of my work right now is a collaboration that I am doing with colleagues at Stockholm University to understand how to build effective university-based boundary organizations to support a better relationship between marine science and decision-making. This excites me because globally we are seeing more and more boundary-type organizations emerge to support a more effective relationship between marine science and policy, but there has been very little opportunity for people working in these organizations to share their experiences and learnings more broadly to support and inform the efforts of others.

Potential and observed influence: Research organizations around the world are well aware of the need to build improved capacity to support knowledge exchange among their scientists and decision-makers. This is evidenced by an increase in the implementation of strategies to support more effective relationships between science and policy, many of which have had great success. For example, at CSIRO in Australia we demonstrated that the employment of a single knowledge broker: 1) led to stronger and more cohesive social networks of scientists and decision-makers, 2) helped researchers understand the operating environment of decision-making agencies, and 3) helped researchers to identify the most appropriate avenues to influence decision-making processes. If a single individual could have this much impact in only 12 months, I am excited to think about the potential impact that an entire university-based boundary organization could have at the interface of marine science and decision-making.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: We hope that this work will help other universities and research organizations develop improved institutional capacity to ensure that their research activities achieve real world tangible impacts for the management of marine systems.

Learn more: Get a comprehensive review of the field of knowledge exchange in relation to the management of marine resources here. If you’re a scientist wanting to know what steps you can take to increase the impact of your research, read this. Learn more about our evaluation of a knowledge broker here and here.

Do you know of additional social science work that should be profiled here?

Do you have suggestions for improving the way we gather information for the next time we do this? Please let us know! You can tell us about other relevant work below in the Comments section, and you can send a letter to the editor by writing to meam [at] In particular, we would love to learn about other work going on in non-English-language-dominant countries.

Sarah Klain: Robust community engagement practices can help find locally acceptable solutions for wind farms and other development

Editor’s note: Sarah Klain is a postdoctoral research associate at Oregon State University. She can be contacted at klains [at] and on Twitter @Zephyr_SK.

What I am working on: My collaborative research with Island Institute highlights how custom-tailored community benefits can help local residents perceive a wind farm development as fair. For example, Block Island residents (off the coast of the northeastern US state of Rhode Island) negotiated with the wind farm developer Deepwater Wind to get a high-speed internet cable coupled with the electrical cables that connect the Block Island wind farm to their island and the mainland. Our research raised the profile of these community benefits. Other coastal communities near proposed wind farms are now requesting and negotiating community benefits. More generally, we summarized good practices and challenges related to engagement with island communities considering offshore wind.

Potential and observed influence: Our research points to effective methods of engaging communities adjacent to proposed offshore wind farms. We identified ways of structuring local engagement processes to help ensure that local values are taken into account when deciding if the farm should be built and where to site it. The underlying work has applicability beyond offshore wind; it is useful to people and organizations who seek to meaningfully engage coastal communities in discussions about future development. This work may also help inform planning efforts to address sea level rise and storm surge, particularly in light of anticipated rebuilding efforts after recent hurricanes and floods. The rebuilding processes are opportunities to improve ocean and coastal conservation as well as management. A potential example of this would be to increase green infrastructure to dampen the impacts of future flooding and storms. Our research points to robust community engagement practices to help find locally acceptable solutions.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: For the US Eastern seaboard, offshore wind is virtually the only option for utility-scale low carbon electricity generation using existing technology in the near term. Marine spatial planners, government agencies, and developers can apply the insights from our research on community engagement. We can also learn from the industrial scale offshore wind developments in northern Europe, including how they have mitigate the local impacts of the farms. For example, some wind farms finance long-term seabird conservation efforts at part of their environmental mitigation plans.

Learn more: Our academic article ”Will communities open up to offshore wind? Lessons learned from New England Islands in the United States” is open access. We also wrote a report tailored for a practitioner audience that also includes a video of a webinar on the topic.

Rachel Kelly: Creating social license has the potential to foster stakeholder engagement and ocean stewardship

Editor’s note: Rachel Kelly is a PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania. She can be contacted at r.kelly [at] and on Twitter @Rachel19191.

What I am working on: Social license reflects the opinions, expectations, and approval of the broader public on government and industry use of natural resources, including the ocean. Still an emergent concept in the marine realm, there may be great potential to explore its applicability in promoting public communication and stakeholder engagement. Gaining social license implies creating and maintaining public trust that industry and managers are utilizing marine environments and resources ethically, in accordance with community expectations. I’m excited to be exploring this space and this concept - whether social license has potential as a tool to foster engagement and stewardship, and promote ocean conservation in community groups.

Potential and observed influence: We’re currently exploring the potential that social license might have in creating actual, practical social outcomes in the marine realm. We’ve been working with marine citizen science programs in Australia and Europe to determine whether citizen science can connect the public with marine spaces and environment and whether this can foster social license for marine conservation and protection.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: Ideally, this research and its outcomes will be used to advise the development of marine citizen science in Europe (our current project will submit a final report to the European Marine Board). We are hoping to identify new means for citizens to engage with marine environmental issues, and to voice their concerns and opinions in managing and utilizing ocean spaces.

Learn more: You can learn more about this work here and here, as well as in this award-winning video, and can follow me on Twitter @Rachel19191.

Joshua Stoll: Fishing strategies play a critical role in the adaptive capacity of fishers

Editor’s note: Joshua Stoll is an assistant research professor at the University of Maine and a cooperating scientist at the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. He can be contacted at joshua.stoll [at]

What I am working on: I have been thinking a lot about the different fisheries that fishers target and the implications that these fishing strategies have for adaptability and resilience in the face of rapid change in the marine environment. My recent research with colleagues Emma Fuller and Beatrice Crona illustrates the ubiquitous yet heterogeneous nature of these connections and begins to show how they affect vulnerability at the individual level. For example, our analysis suggests that fishermen who participate in Maine's iconic lobster fishery have significantly different levels of adaptive capacity due to the suite of fisheries that they have access to (in addition to lobster) – some are among the most well-positioned to change, while others are the least well-positioned to adapt. Though our work focuses on fishers in Maine in the US, we feel that our results have the potential to be relevant more broadly because they make apparent the role that individual-scale, cross-fishery dynamics (e.g., between fishers and different fisheries) play in creating uneven levels of adaptability and resilience. We contend this is important because it shows that vulnerability and adaptive capacity need to be evaluated at the multi-fishery scale, rather than within any particular fishery. To this end, we argue that being more attentive to these linkages can lead to a more robust understanding of vulnerability.

Potential and observed influence: The National Marine Fisheries Service, Maine Department of Marine Resources, and Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries recently launched a partnership to explore ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management in the eastern Gulf of Maine. The agreement – which is one of the first of its kind in the US – lays out a plan to develop a research framework that will use available information and existing monitoring programs, while also identifying new research needs and approaches to integrating fishermen’s knowledge, to ultimately create a more comprehensive understanding of fisheries in the region. Our research on fisher-fishery linkages is directly relevant to this effort because it provides a systematic way to account for the social and ecological interactions in the ecosystem.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: Many coastal communities are actively thinking about how they will be impacted by climate change and other socioeconomic and ecological threats on the horizon (or that are actively unfolding). My hope is that our research will inform communities' approach to thinking about adaptability and resilience.

Learn more: Learn more about this work here.

Dorothy Dankel: Sound resource management in the Arctic requires an understanding of climate–political–societal linkages

Editor’s note: Dorothy Dankel is a researcher at the University of Bergen. She can be contacted at dorothy.dankel [at] and @dorothydankel.

What I am working on: Right now, I'm leading the REGIMES Arctic Climate and Society project. The location and distribution of marine resources in the Arctic is changing very quickly, and we are starting to see geo-political consequences to how the Svalbard Treaty of 1920 is interpreted and resources are shared. For example, the lucrative snow crab and North Atlantic mackerel are now present in the Svalbard Protection Zone, a specially designated ocean region around the Svalbard archipelago. Under a common interpretation of the Svalbard Treaty, all signatories have an equal share in resource exploitation in the protection zone. But Norway exerts its right to issue resource quotas, something that the EU has rejected this past winter. Our research looks at the new questions of management regimes from an integrated bio-social-economic and geopolitical stance to examine the hypothesis of the emergence of climate change-driven regimes for the Arctic. A daunting, but exciting, question we are now studying is how young Norwegians can learn about how the current evolving bio-geophysical dynamics are influencing global geopolitics around Svalbard – for example, the relationship between Norway, Russia, and the EU on Arctic resource and security issues. Working with enthusiastic and hard-working 17 and 18 years olds is a very fun and fulfilling aspect of preparing society for climate adaptation.

Potential and observed influence: Since Fall 2016, we've been refining methods and conducting workshops with students from two high schools in Bergen, Norway. In August 2017, we took five students and a teacher with us to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, to expose them to this unique Arctic society and conduct social science and ethnographic research. The students interviewed over 50 local residents on their perceptions of climate change in Svalbard. This will inform our scientific papers and synthesis of plausible socially-robust trajectories of Norway's future Arctic strategies.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: We in the REGIMES project are applying hybrid methodologies (i.e., climate modeling scenarios combined with stakeholder-influenced techno-moral-economic narratives of the future) to give decisionmakers more holistic viewpoints of the climate–politics–society nexus in the Arctic so that trade-offs between resource exploitation and conservation can be optimized in a way that is with and for society. For example, our work can be used in policy forums and discussions that are looking for stakeholder perspectives and socially-robust plans for how to use Arctic resources in the future.

Learn more: Learn more about the REGIMES project here and on Twitter at #regimesproj.

Nadine Marshall: Understanding the human dimension of the Great Barrier Reef is essential for long-term planning and evaluating the outcomes of management decisions

Editor’s note: Nadine Marshall is a senior social scientist CSIRO Land and Water. She can be contacted at nadine.marshall [at]

What I am working on: It is a great time in history to be an environmental social scientist. It seems to me that managers are actively wanting to know more about the human dimension of oceans and are keen to use any information in their decision-making processes. Exciting aspects of my work right now are around harnessing stewardship for oceans through developing a better insight into people’s values, aspirations, attitudes, wellbeing, and capacity. For example, I am project leader for the Social and Economic Long-Term Monitoring Program (SELTMP) for the Great Barrier Reef. SELTMP gathers long-term data about the human dimension of the reef – including how people, industries, and communities interact in it, value it, perceive it, and may respond to environmental and societal changes such as environmental degradation, climate change, regulatory frameworks, and changes in culture. The longitudinal information that we are collecting is essential for long-term planning and evaluating the effectiveness of management interventions.

Potential and observed influence: In the Great Barrier Reef region, the work has mostly been used to establish the context-setting for policy and management – that is, are social conditions sufficiently ripe to initiate stewardship? Managers are keen to report on current social conditions, and our work has been reported in high level policy/management documents such as the Outlook Report and the Reef 2050 Plan. Given that we conduct the work as part of social and economic monitoring for the region, we hope to see social change through time, but it is too early to report whether any real change has occurred.

Applicability of this work elsewhere: Our work identifies the best ways to engage with different groups based on their values, aspirations, attitudes, wellbeing, and capacity. Ideally, our work will be used to inspire partnerships with, or initiate, new community groups devoted to the stewardship of the Great Barrier Reef.

Learn more: Our monitoring data and an overview of our project are available here.

[1] These papers were selected from ones located by searching the Literature Library using the search terms “social science” and “human dimensions”.

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