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Fishing communities cooperate to survive climate change

Northwest Mexico’s small fishing communities face a double threat: protecting ocean ecosystems while supporting local livelihoods. Climate change intensifies this challenge, pushing both systems towards peril.

A new study explores how different community management styles, such as cooperative or individual ventures, influence resilience against climate impacts.

Monitoring the fishers

The researchers looked into how small fishing communities deal with big environmental changes in the sea. They focused on the activities of the fishers, how much fish they caught, and their earnings over time. 

The team used a method that identifies the links between the fishers and the sea, and shows how these links change. They compared groups of fishers who work together in teams, called cooperatives, with those who work on their own, to see if teamwork helps them better handle the changes in the sea. 

Cooperation is key

“We see that, depending on how they’re organized, they are better able to adapt to climate change, but it comes with tradeoffs,” said Professor Xavier Basurto of the Duke Marine Lab.

The team found that the cooperatives are more adaptable and resilient to climate change than individual businesses. Cooperatives share resources, knowledge, and decision-making, allowing them to adapt more effectively. They diversify their fishing activities, explore new locations, and even target different species to maintain income. 

This interconnectedness strengthens their network and makes them more resilient. Unfortunately, individual fishers struggle alone, lacking the resources and support of a collective. 

Strategies for climate changes

Climate change throws a curveball at small-scale fisheries. When climate disrupts the ocean, fishermen need to adjust quickly to keep their businesses afloat. The researchers found that they follow several strategies in such cases.

When the climate changes the fish population, fishermen try catching different types that are now more plentiful. This helps them in the short term, but it can also lead to overfishing these new species, hurting future catches.

If the local fishing grounds are empty, fishermen might venture further out. This can give struggling communities a lifeline, but it can also put pressure on new areas and create conflicts with other ocean users. 

Long-term strategies are needed

While quick fixes like switching catches offer a temporary lifeline, they can harm fish and their homes in the long run. 

Real strength comes from a bigger picture, understanding that healthy fisheries rely on healthy oceans and thriving communities. Spreading income beyond just fishing, using less harmful ways to catch fish, and protecting important underwater places like coral reefs are all key.

Study significance 

Millions of people around the world depend on small-scale fisheries for their food and income, especially in coastal communities. By understanding how these fisheries can adapt and succeed despite changes in the climate, we can help ensure that these communities and their way of life can continue.

The study not only looks at how fisheries can adapt, but also how they can do so in a way that protects the ocean. By finding ways to fish that both hurt the environment less and make fisheries more resilient to climate change, this research helps us balance the needs of people with the need to protect the ocean.

Multiple challenges

“Climate variability and change in ocean ecosystems create challenges for fisheries’ sustainability, both economically and environmentally,” said Timothy Frawley, the first author on the paper and researcher at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center.

“While we know quite a bit about how individual fishers and coastal fishing communities are responding to changing oceans, less is known about how the social structures through which they choose to organize themselves may influence their vulnerability to associated shocks and stressors and their capacity to adapt.”

Solutions for diverse fishing communities

Climate change help for fishing communities needs to be specific to how they manage themselves and how able they are to adapt. This means different policies for different groups, and providing resources, information, and tools that help them adjust to changing conditions in a way that lasts.

While communities need to adjust to survive now, they also need to think about the long term. Some ways to adapt might actually make things worse in the long run. Building resilience means finding ways to make a living from fishing that are good for the environment and don’t put communities at risk in the future. This might involve fishing in more sustainable ways, or taking better care of the ocean.

Additionally, how small fishing communities adapt to climate change can affect everyone differently. It’s important to make sure that everyone benefits, and that the most vulnerable people aren’t left behind. 

Future directions

Further research on the social and economic impacts of climate change on fishing communities, including gender, income diversification, and well-being, would provide a more complete understanding of vulnerability and resilience. 

Moreover, studying different regions and fishery types could show how factors like society, economy, environment, and governance affect resilience and adaptation. 

“It is really exciting to see how fine-scale information on fishing organizations can illuminate our understanding of responses to climate impacts,” said Heather Leslie, a professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine. 

“It would be great to be able to do this type of analysis in New England, particularly given the growing interest in innovative approaches to fisheries, aquaculture and other dimensions of the blue economy.” 

The study is published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

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