NCEAS Product 25670

Beaudreau, Anne H; Ward, Eric J.; Brenner, Richard E.; Shelton, Andrew O.; Watson, Jordan T.; Womack, Jennifer C.; Anderson, Sean C.; Haynie, Alan C.; Marshall, Kristin N.; Williams, Benjamin C. 2019. Thirty years of change and the future of Alaskan fisheries: Shifts in fishing participation and diversification in response to environmental, regulatory and economic pressures. Fish and Fisheries. (Abstract) (Online version)


Heterogeneity in human responses and decision‐making can contribute to the resilience of social–ecological systems in the face of environmental, political and economic pressures. In fishery systems worldwide, the ability of harvesters to maintain a diverse portfolio of fishing strategies is important for building adaptive capacity. We used a case‐study approach to examine the complexity of factors that inhibit or promote diversification in fisheries of Alaska, one of the major fishing regions of the world. Through a combination of harvest records and literature review, we explored shifts in participation and portfolio diversity in Alaskan fisheries over three decades. The four case‐studies examined the responses of fishers, fleets and communities to multiple, intersecting pressures, including biological declines, market and price dynamics, fishery privatization and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. These cases illustrate how stressors acting at multiple scales can encourage or constrain opportunities for diversification, and that these opportunities may be spread inequitably across participants. Overall, we found evidence for reduced participation and increasing specialization in Alaskan commercial fisheries. While numerous factors explain these trends, policies like individual quota systems and the increasing cost of entry into fisheries are forcing consolidation at local to regional scales. A portfolio approach to managing fisheries that reduces barriers to diversification and includes broad representation of resource users and communities in management may help to maintain opportunity and choice for fishers.