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Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment / CBIE Working Papers / Household Vulnerability and Institutional Fragility in a Socially Constructed Adaptive Landscape: The Case of Southwest Nova Scotia

Household Vulnerability and Institutional Fragility in a Socially Constructed Adaptive Landscape: The Case of Southwest Nova Scotia



Fishing communities and fisheries governance systems are dynamically engaged in a process of social, ecological, and economic change as they respond to double exposure from globalization and climate change (Leichenko and OBrien, 2008). In this study of the multi-species fishery of Barrington, Nova Scotia, I examine how fish harvesters have responded to warming water temperatures and declining wharf prices. In the summer of 2012, I conducted 31 semi-structured interviews with fish buyers, harvesters, and association leaders with questions focusing on the challenges they faced, and how they responded to these challenges. Using Ostrom's diagnostic framework for coding variables, content analysis, and multi-dimensional scaling of the co-occurrences of themes, I found that interview respondents discussed three main processes affecting household vulnerability outcomes. First, due to low social cohesion among harvesters, associations and the government, harvesters favor individual responses to the challenges they face. Second, differential knowledge and capital control during the privatization, marketization, and decline of fishing access rights has increased the dependency on lobster as a sole source of income for many harvesters. As dependence on lobster has increased in the region, the severity of seasonal gluts has increased, exacerbated by a decline in demand for lobster since the economic crisis of 2008 and changing water temperatures. These three processes have contributed to lower incomes for some captains, lower crew employment and crew-shares, and increased emigration from fishing communities. Using McLaughlin and Dietz (2008) concept of socially constructed adaptive landscapes, I situate these processes within the context of the social construction of the tragedy of the commons in Atlantic Canada, in which government policy favored a massive expansion of fishing effort while simultaneously expanding jurisdictional control over all fishing grounds within the 200-mile limit, ultimately leading to the decline of Atlantic Canadian cod stocks. Thus, current levels of dependence on lobsters are the product of the historical structural framing of problems, current political economic structures, changing water temperatures, and the differential agency of harvesters, buyers, and association leaders. I argue that Ostrom (2005) emphasis on biophysical processes, community attributes, and rules-in-use is complementary to McLaughlin and Dietz (2008) conceptualization of structure, agency, and the environment. The results of this research support calls to move beyond the blueprint approaches to fisheries governance, and those that focus on procedural justice in deliberation processes.

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