Working Group: Social Ecological Resilience and Small-Scale Fisheries

View our small scale fisheries factsheet


Coastal ecosystems worldwide face external pressures such as climate change in addition to local stressors. The convergence of these stressors threatens to bring major economic and social losses for local and global human communities because of how closely coupled human well-being is with ecosystems, paticularly in small scale fisheries. Small scale fisheries are characterized by their smaller vessels, relatively low-tech gear, and low operating costs. They are present on coastlines around the world.  In addition to contributing to coastal economies and livelihoods, they are also critical to food security.  To create effective policy or small scale fisheries, it is critical to understand habitats as systems with both human and ecological infulences, also known as a coupled social-ecological system (SES). Simultaneously preserving human health and ecosystem health will mean maintaining healthy links between people and habitat. However, most current management approaches and governance systems fail to recognize and address social-ecological linkages. As a result, current management systems often fail to halt environmental decline and loss of ecosystem services.

The Center for Ocean Solutions has convened an interdisciplinary working group of scholars to explore the influences of local and global feedbacks on the resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystems and human communities in small-scale fisheries. The working group aims to better define and understand the biophysical, social, cognitive and governance dimensions of small-scale fisheries, and how to best promote trajectories towards responsible human development and social-ecological well-being. Our ultimate goal is to produce conceptual and operational frameworks. These frameworks will act as tools for informing and supporting shifts away from ecological and social degradation and towards healthy and resilient ecosystems and human communities.

A Pacific island fisherman shows off his catch.  Photo Credit: ARC Centre for Excellence of Coral Reef Studies, Marine Photobank.

Project Updates

COS is working with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FOA) and a partnership of funders and practitioners to guide implementation of the FOA's 'Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries' into practice. The team will do this by contextualizing and embedding the FOA's guidelines into a global review of small-scale fisheries governance, mining literature for insights - best practices, enabling conditions, or diverse outcomes -  and augmenting this dataset with interviews and surveys with practitioners and managers to glean lessons learned from unpublished experiences. 

Over the past year, COS’s work in SSF has evolved from an applied academic focus to a focus on developing practical guidance for practitioners and funders working on the ground. Since convening in winter 2016 with a diverse partnership of funders, practitioners, academics and fish workers, COS staff have been conducting a literature review and co-developing a global survey to inform the development of a decision support tool. This tool would be for funders, practitioners and fish workers to inform just solutions and best practices in small-scale fisheries governance.

COS staff have been conducting a literature review and co-developing and implementing a global survey to inform the development of a decision support tool for funders, practitioners and fish workers to inform equitable solutions and best practices in small-scale fisheries governance. In partnership with the Nereus Project, COS co-hosted a working group in spring 2016 to work together on advancing knowledge on climate change impacts on fishing communities in the Pacific Islands. The partnership, comprised of international scholars with various backgrounds in the natural and social sciences, is currently working on publishing a special issue in the academic journal Marine Policy. The series of papers will provide a reference guide on integrating small-scale fisheries and climate change in Pacific Island contexts.

Relevant literature on small-scale fisheries

Managing small-scale commercial fisheries for adaptive capacity: Insights from dynamic social-ecological drivers of change in Monterey Bay

Emerging frontiers in social-ecological systems research for sustainability of small-scale fisheries

Human dimensions of small-scale and traditional fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region

Cooperative strategies in fisheries management: Integrating across scales

The role of the regional fishery management councils in multi-sector spatial planning: Exploring existing tools and future opportunities


Center for Ocean Solutions Small-Scale Fisheries Team:
Project Leads: Larry Crowder (science director), Ashley Erickson (assistant director for law and policy)
Research Analysts and Early Career Fellows: Lucie Hazen (research analyst), Elodie Le Cornu (research analyst), Elena Finkbeiner (early career fellow)