Harnessing scientific and local knowledge to face climate change in small-scale fisheries

Published in Global Environmental Change, v. 68:102253

Gianelli, I,  Ortega, L., Pittman, J., Vasconcellos, M., Defeo, O.

Publication year 2021
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2021.102253

Laboratorio de Ciencias del Mar, Facultad de Ciencias, Montevideo, Uruguay
Direcci´on Nacional de Recursos Acu´aticos, Montevideo, Uruguay
Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo, Canada
Fisheries Division, FAO, Italy

IAI Program


IAI Project SGP-HW 017


Small-scale fisheries in developing regions are particularly vulnerable to climate change, but the assessment of climate-induced changes and impacts are often hampered by the data poor-situation of these social-ecological systems. Based on 40 years of scientific and local ecological knowledge, we provide a coherent narrative about the effects of a marine hotspot of climate change on a small-scale fishery across different geographical and temporal scales. We applied a mixed-methods approach to assess biophysical changes, social-ecological impacts, and the incremental spectrum of actions implemented at multiple levels to increase the adaptive capacity of a small-scale clam fishery. The warming hotspot here analyzed was the fastest-warming region in the South Atlantic Ocean. Long-term changes in wind intensity and direction were also noticeable at a regional scale. Both sea surface temperature and winds showed a clear shifting pattern in the late 1990 s. These climate-related stressors determined ecosystem and targeted population changes (e.g. clam mass mortalities, slow stock recovery rates after ecological shocks, habitat narrowing), and favored harmful algal bloom-forming organisms. Climate-induced drivers also affected the human component of the social-ecological system, preventing fishers from securing a fulltime livelihood and limiting the fishery economic potential. Adaptive responses at multiple levels provided some capacity to address climate change effects, and transformative pathways are being taken to adapt to climate-induced changes over the long-term. Transformative changes were fostered by the local perception of environmental change, shared narratives, sustained scientific monitoring programs, and the interaction between knowledge systems, facilitated by a bridging organization within a broader process of governance transformation. The combination of autonomous adaptations (based on linking social capital and fishery leaders agency) and government-led adaptations were essential to face the challenges imposed by climate change. Our results serve as a learning platform to anticipate threats and envision solutions to a wide range of small-scale fisheries in fast-warming regions worldwide.