NEWS 2021-03-31

Including relationships improve fisheries management

Bioeconomic models guiding small-scale fisheries development programmes exclude important interactions between fishers, traders and consumers. This may increase existing inequalities. A social-ecological model that includes these complex relationship dynamics substantially improves accuracy in predicting fishery outcomes.

Mexican fishermen landing Humboldt squid at night. Photo: Alamy

Climate change is set to seriously impact small-scale fisheries, reducing catches and altering the distribution of many species that are crucial to the livelihoods of millions around the world. How fishers can respond and adapt to these changes is often determined by a complex web of social relationships between fishers, traders and various users and consumers. But despite this, these social relationships are rarely included in the predictive bioeconomic models that are widely used to guide fisheries management.

Not only down to the individual

In a recent study in the journal Regional Environmental Change a team of international researchers lincluding Beijer Institute deputy director Anne-Sophie Crépin, compare the predictions of a bioeconomic fishery model with those of a social-ecological model that incorporates the dynamics of cooperative relationships between fish traders, using the Mexican Humboldt squid fishery as a case study.

“Individual action and impacts on individuals are often the primary focus of economic analyses informing the formal management of small-scale fisheries, dismissing relevant social relationships”, explains lead author Laura Elsler, Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Relationships for better or worse

Mexico’s Humboldt squid fishery has had a significant and well-documented response to recent changes in environmental and climate, including changes in fishers’ prices, catch volumes and landing locations.

Social relationships play a large role in navigating this. Cooperation between traders can help create economic buffers for fishers. For instance, traders might buy fish that they did not demand but be able to sell it to another trader. However, the same relations may affect fishers incomes negatively. Traders can act as gatekeepers to global markets, provide fishing permits, equipment, or loans. These interactions can create dependencies and reduce fishers’ ability to negotiate competitive prices.

Improving model accuracy

The study shows that a major fishery development programme that is supported by predictions from the simple bioeconomic model and seeks to increase fishers’ income through increasing domestic market demand, may actually increase income inequality between fishers and traders, in contradiction to its goal.

”This study is important because it clearly illustrates and quantifies the management errors that may occur if we do not take into account the role of social relationships. It also provides a concrete way for how to introduce these elements in the modelling framework often used in fisheries management”, concludes Anne-Sophie Crépin.

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