Long-term, Ecosystem-Scale Changes in the Southern Benguela Marine Pelagic Social-Ecological System: Interaction of Natural and Human Drivers

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"South Africa's small pelagics fishery is currently the largest in volume and second largest in value in the southern Benguela. It exploits short-lived, small pelagic fishes such as anchovy (for reduction into fish meal and oil) and sardine (for reduction as well as human consumption through canned products), and to a lesser extent redeye round herring and mesopelagics, largely for reduction. We explore the recent history (1940s to present) of the social-ecological system around this fishery. The natural subsystem, at the scales of the ocean environment and the ecosystem, is characterized by high interannual and documented decadal-scale variability. We characterize the human social subsystem at the scales of the fishing industry, legislation, and west coast fishing towns, and demonstrate interdependencies between the natural and social subsystems by following system-scale changes. The pelagic fishing industry has evolved to deal with variability through consolidation, diversification, and range expansion. Legislation has increasingly looked for conservation of the resource while ensuring economic viability of the industry, and hence factory- and vessel-related jobs. Fishing communities under apartheid stayed largely dependent on company-generated infrastructure, combining seasonal employment in the fishing factories with inshore fishing, targeting rock lobster and line fish. While the pelagic industry persisted and communities survived, the resource base for both offshore and inshore fisheries gradually eroded. The advent of democracy in the mid-1990s brought allocation of long-term fishing rights to individuals or companies under conditions of depleted inshore resources aggravated by a shift in the distribution of pelagic fish away from the west coast towards the Cape south coast in the second half of the 1990s. The resultant loss of employment and fishing rights in the inshore has generated community coping strategies that include poaching and challenges to the current Marine Living Resources Act, while the industry continues to expand by range and species, possibly further eroding the resource base. We argue that the situation in the pelagic social-ecological system is indicative of further loss of resilience to change. Coping with future long-term, system-scale change will necessitate careful long-term scenario planning among the various interest groups involved, joint research being one way to overcome the communications breakdown and initiate the joint planning process."
anchovy, social-ecological systems, sardines, coastal regions, marine resources