Thumbnail Image

Social-ecological vulnerability to environmental extremes and adaptation pathways in small-scale fisheries of the southern California Current

Coastal ecosystems and human communities are threatened worldwide by climate change, and shocks from social, market and political change. There is an urgent global need to promote resilient food production and livelihoods in the face of these shocks. Small-scale fisheries (SSF) in rural settings can be particularly vulnerable as they frequently lack the resources, rights and infrastructure to respond to shocks originating outside the focal systems. We examined ecological and social outcomes of environmental extremes in a SSF socio-ecological system (SES) by using long-term oceanographic (between 2010-2019) and ecological (2006-2018) data tracking change in a kelp forest ecosystem of Baja California, Mexico, and concurrent documentation of proactive and reactive actions of a fishing community organized in a cooperative. Results indicate a complex landscape of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ among species and fisheries exposed to unprecedented environmental extremes, including marine heat waves and prolonged hypoxia, and a suite of adaptive actions by the local fishing cooperative, and others in the region, that have helped confront these rapid and drastic changes. Cooperatives have established voluntary marine reserves to promote recovery of affected populations and have invested in diversification of activities enabled by access rights, collective decision-making, and participatory science programs. Results indicate that local actions can support social and ecological resilience in the face of shocks, and that enabling locally-driven adaptation pathways is critical to resilience. This case study highlights the crucial importance of strengthening and supporting rights, governance, capacity, flexibility, learning, and agency for coastal communities to respond to change and sustain their livelihoods and ecosystems in the long run.