Small-scale fisheries, contributing about half to the global fish catch, are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Climate change puts fishers in a new situation with increased ecological uncertainty; therefore, there is an increased dependence on their ability to adapt and cooperate. AgentEx explores cooperation for sustainable resource use facing this new situation using agent-based modelling and experiments. The connection of behavioural experiments and ABM for gaining an understanding of behaviour is a natural match but a rarely implemented research frontier.

Photo: Juan Rocha

Small-scale fisheries, often referred to as traditional, artisanal, low-tech, labour intensive, low capital operations, contribute about 50% to the global fish catch and jobs for millions of people. They are vulnerable to climate change effects which places fishers in a new situation with increased ecological uncertainty. The ability of fishers to deal with this new situation will crucially depend on the capacity of fishers to adapt individually and collectively. To prevent overexploitation of common-pool resources, much effort went into understanding enablers of cooperation. However, we know little about the interplay between cooperation and sustainable resource use in new, uncertain conditions posed by climate change.

The project AgentEX aims to contribute to a better understanding, and identify critical multi-level processes for sustainable small-scale fisheries, using agent-based modelling (ABM). ABM allows to represent, simulate and analyse the role and effect of individual and situational heterogeneity on multiple levels.

The abundance of common-pool resource dilemmas and their importance, for the environment and many livelihoods, and their associated management challenges led to an extensive body of literature devoted to identifying factors that hinder or foster cooperation. However, we cannot assume that cooperative behaviour ‘automatically’ leads to sustainable resource use, as ecological knowledge is often limited and resource flows not only vary increasingly due to climate change, but are also perceived heterogeneously, affecting fishers’ individual and collective behaviour. Neglecting these feedback loops and relationships can lead to unexpected outcomes and ineffective interventions.

Drawing from the finding that ‘cooperation is not enough’, we combine behavioural experiments approach with ABM in case studies from Thailand and Colombia. The project study the interactions of the perceptions of small-scale fishers and ecological changes holistically, focusing on the following objectives:

  1. Conceptually unpacking what the new situation of increased uncertainty caused by climate change, entails for small-scale fisheries by specifying archetypes of ecological uncertainties, and the potential perceptions;
  2. Identify the key processes of interaction between fishers and their new situation caused by climate change, by testing the effect of hypothesised perception processes – on fishing behaviour using ABM;
  3. Identify possible intervention entry points sensitive to ecological uncertainties and heterogeneous perceptions by exploring relevant intervention scenarios using ABM.
Project team:

Ferdinanda Wijermans (PI) and Maja Schlüter from  Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Therese Lindahl and Caroline Schill from Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics.




Wijermans, N., Schill, C., Lindahl, T., & Schlüter, M. (2022). Combining approaches: Looking behind the scenes of integrating multiple types of evidence from controlled behavioural experiments through agent-based modelling. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 1-13.