A review of adaptation options in fisheries management to support resilience and transition under socio-ecological change

“Social-ecological systems dependent on fisheries must be resilient or adapt to remain viable in the face of change.”

In a paper published in ICES journal of marine science we reviewed the adaptation options in fisheries management to support resilience and transition.


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Climate change has worldwide consequences for marine social-ecological systems. One resultant output of the challenges we face is the adoption of an ecosystem-based management framework (EBM). An EBM requires a careful consideration of ecosystem connections, scales, species, and environmental drivers, thus involving stakeholders, considering socio-ecological complexities are uncertainties and using adaptive management. EBM is suggested to be superior to a single-species approach to management, however there is a lack of clear social-ecological focus in its implementation.

In order for us to see how adaptation options can fit within an EBM process we need:

  1. A better overview on how fisheries and adaptation fields of research, assessment methods and adaptive management cycles are related
  2. As well as need examples of how adaptation options can be conceptualised from interventions currently utilised to support social resilience and adaptation of social groups in fisheries.

In this review (Woods et al. 2021), the authors contribute to the examples needed by reviewing fisheries literature from 22 nations and regions to discretize the concept of adaptation. The review focuses on how to materialize the relatively new concept of adaptation options within the field of fisheries, by identifying ways in which it could be considered to already have been used within the field.

We categorized the adaptation options within a climate change (CC) and outside (N) of a climate change context, using the following 5 topics:

  1. Which adaptation options were emphasized (Ecological, social, or institutional)
  2. Planning and implementation
  3. Management scale
  4. Patterns in community focus and implementation status
  5. Geographic trends in adaptation option usage across nations and regions.


29 participants conducted reviews within nations and regions across North America, Europe and the South Pacific (21 regions). The participants were composed of doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers during a workshop held by a Nordforsk-funded Center of Excellence research network.

Teams of 1-3 researchers conducted internet-based literature searches (Google, Google Scholar, and Web of Science search engines). The searches were conducted both in English and the participants native language, and both for CC and non-climate change (N) related documents. The documents were then read through for instances of adaptation options (see paper for details on categorisation methods). Note that these searches only provide a swath of what a typical fisheries researcher may encounter.

A pilot study was initially performed to improve consistency in categorisation across teams and improve definitions to be used in the final categorisations. Two studies were used for this effect: Conway and Shaw (2008) and EAC (2013). The final categorisations took place between June 2017 and September 2018.


The rankings of stressor descriptors of each adaptation option record were converted to scores. The sum of the scores over all adaptation option records were then compared between CC and N contexts.

Correspondence analysis was used to analyse adaptation option record counts by nation and region grouped under the three banners of ecological, social and institutional within the CC or N contexts.

Results & Discussions

“A key lesson that can be taken from this exercise in conceptualizing adaptation options is that there is a general need for clarifying expectations regarding who or what is resilient or adapting, as management adaptation does not necessarily equate to adaptation of stakeholders.”

The analyses lead to a total of 1834 adaptation option records (1801 used for analyses) spanning from 1996 to 2018, but records were most frequently found to have been published 2008 and later.

Adaptation option types and stressors

The most recorded adaptation option under a climate change context (CC) was research, whereas outside of a climate change context (N), enforcement, followed by research, was the most recorded one. In terms of stressors, ecological uncertainty was most often recorded under CC, whereas under N, it was stock decline, followed by ecological uncertainty, social uncertainty and regulation change (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2: Adaptation options recorded in the study, along with the relative importance of stressors identified from CC (top, red circles) and N (bottom, blue circles) literature searches. Adaptation options (at left) are ordered by frequency across all records, while circle size reflects the total score, which is affected by both frequency across all records and stressor rank within a record [see Equation ()]. Adaptation option names are color-categorized under three broad banners: ecological, social, and institutional.

Planning and implementation

Outside of a climate change context, adaptation options were mostly recorded as responsive for all three banners: ecological, social, and institutional (more green area in the pie charts, Fig. 3). When adaptation options were already implemented, they were more often recorded as responsive or both. Overall a focus on ecological resilience, likely indicating a focus on management adaptation was found. Ecological adaptations were more dominant under the CC context, and were anticipatory when related to climate change, or when not yet implemented. Social adaptation options were more prevalent in the N context, and often classified as responsive, particularly when already implemented (Fig. 3).

Management scales

The authors involved in the implementation of the adaptation options showed similar patterns in both CC and N contexts. However, ecological and institutional adaptation options were managed top-down by centralized government institutions in most cases (more blue area in the pie charts, Fig. 3). Further results are available in the article. The take-home message is that ecological and institutional adaptation options were mainly recorded as top-down processes.

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Figure 3: Proportion of adaptation option records that were considered anticipatory, responsive, or both in planning (left) and managed by top-down processes, bottom-up processes, non-profit organizations, or individuals (right) are represented as pie charts, calculated within a CC or N and split by whether the adaptation option was implemented or not (I or N). Adaptation option names are color-categorized under three banners: ecological, social, institutional.

Community focus

The authors observed a dominance of research and enforcement as adaptation options in all subsets of data, which was due to not having a community focus. The lack of community focus, ecological adaptation options dominate. On the other hand, research ranked lower when there was a focus on communities, and institutional adaptation options ranked higher (see Fig. 3 in the article).


Region-specific trends were observed for some countries (e.g. Sweden, Finland, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Canada, UK and New Zealand) in both CC and N contexts. In the CC context, the results from the United States of America and Australia showed no clear trends (see Fig. 4 and Table 1 in the article for more details).


Our findings suggest that the current broad approach to climate change adaptation within fisheries entails management adaptation to become more climate-informed so that core functions of ecological resilience are maintained.”

Adaptation of stakeholders and maintaining social resilience are not as focussed on as expected, especially given the emphasis of EBM on social-ecological systems. Furthermore, adaptation is more likely to be incorporated into current infrastructure rather than if it were in stand-alone programmes

Overall, by contributing to an understanding of how adaptation to change is currently viewed and approached within a diverse set of fisheries literature, more effective pathways for incorporating adaptation options into future policy and management can be identified, either within or external to EBM, on a case-by-case basis”.


P J Woods, J I Macdonald, H Bárðarson, S Bonanomi, W J Boonstra, G Cornell, G Cripps, R Danielsen, L Färber, A S A Ferreira, K Ferguson, M Holma, R E Holt, K L Hunter, A Kokkalis, T J Langbehn, G Ljungström, E Nieminen, M C Nordström, M Oostdijk, A Richter, G Romagnoni, C Sguotti, A Simons, N L Shackell, M Snickars, J D Whittington, H Wootton, J Yletyinen. 2021. A review of adaptation options in fisheries management to support resilience and transition under socio-ecological change, ICES Journal of Marine Science, fsab146, https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsab146

Conway, F. and Shaw, W. (2008), Socioeconomic Lessons Learned from the Response to the Federally-Declared West Coast Groundfish Disaster. Fisheries 33: 269-277. https://doi.org/10.1577/1548-8446-33.6.269

Ecology Action Centre (EAC) 2013. Social impact investing for sustainable fishing
communities: workshop report. Report No. EAC-062. EAC,Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. 19pp




Tags: Fisheries Management, Ecology, Marine By Sofia Ferreira, Rebecca Holt
Published Sep. 15, 2021 9:57 AM - Last modified Sep. 15, 2021 9:57 AM
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