Sea Change: Social-Ecological Co-Evolution in Baltic Sea Fisheries

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"Sustainable management of natural resources requires an in-depth understanding of the interplay between social and ecological change. Linked social-ecological systems (SES) have been described as complex adaptive systems (CAS), which mean that they are irreducible, exhibit nonlinear dynamics, have interactions across scales and are uncertain and unpredictable. These propositions have however rarely been tested empirically, in part due to a lack of methodological approaches and suitable datasets. In this thesis, I address this methodological and empirical gap in a study of long-term change of Baltic Sea fisheries. In Paper I, we develop the concept of fishing style through integrating multivariate statistical analysis and in-depth interviews. We thereby identify an intermediate level of detail for analyzing social-ecological dynamics, embracing the case specific and context dependent approaches of the social sciences with the generalizable and quantifiable approaches from the natural sciences. In Paper II we ask: How has the Baltic Sea fishery been regulated over time, and can we identify a way to quantify regulations in order to be able to analyze their effects? We analyze all regulatory changes in Sweden since 1995 with a new methodology and conclude that there is a clear trend towards increased micro-management. In Paper III, we use the fishing styles developed in Paper I and examine how they have changed over time. We relate these changes to the dynamics of regulation (Paper II), as well as to the dynamics of fish stocks and prices. We conclude that regulation has been the main driving force for observed changes, but also that regulation has prompted significant specialization and decline in flexibility for fishers over time. These changes are unintended consequences and may represent a looming risk for the long-term sustainability of this social-ecological system. Paper IV zooms in on a particular fishery, the pelagic trawl fishery for sprat Sprattus sprattus and Atlantic herring Clupea harengus, mainly targeted for the production of fishmeal and fish oil. Suspicions of non-compliance in this fishery motivated us to apply a statistical approach where we used socioeconomic data to re-estimate the historical catches in this fishery (a novel approach to catch-reconstruction estimates). We found that catches had been significantly underreported over several years, with consequences for the quality of stock assessments and management. The study underlines the importance of understanding linked social, economic and ecological dynamics for sustainable outcomes. Finally, Paper V takes a longer historical look at the Baltic Sea fishery, using regionally disaggregated data from 1914-2009 (96 years), which were analyzed with a novel type of nonlinear statistical time-series methods (Empirical Dynamical Modeling). Our analysis explicitly recognized the potential nonlinear dynamics of SES and showed high predictability across regions of catches and prices of cod Gadus morhua and herring. The signal was generally nonlinear and predictability decreased strongly with time, suggesting that the dynamics of this SES are ever-changing. To our knowledge, this is the first long-term analysis of a SES using empirical data and methods developed from the CAS field of research. The main contributions of this thesis are the integrated analysis of social and ecological data, the development of novel methods for understanding SES dynamics, insights on the ever-changing nature of CAS and the quantitative analysis of management outcomes. Future work should focus on assessing the generality of these findings across a broad range of SES and evaluate alternative governance approaches given the complexity and uncertainty of SES suggested by this thesis."



Baltic Sea, fisheries, resilience, social-ecological systems