Promoting climate change awareness and adaptive planning in Atlantic fisheries communities using participatory vulnerability analysis, mapping, and systems dynamic modeling
Funding:  NOAA Climate Program Office, Coastal and Oceans Climate Applications (COCA) Program (#NA12OAR4310106)
Project Date Range:

Project Summary

Problem statement
Marine fishing provides the base for an economic sector important to many coastal communities in the United States for centuries. In addition to the economic benefits, this sector has also shaped and preserved the unique cultural and social fabric of coastal communities along the Atlantic shore and continue to define an important segment of the maritime living heritage. However, commercial and recreational fishing face numerous pressures, putting into question their viability. Climate change threatens commercial fisheries along the Atlantic coast. Planning in the context of diverse stresses poses challenges for fisheries managers, stakeholders, local planners and decision makers whose decisions significantly influence shore-based infrastructure. They must understand how stresses interact to produce impacts. They must also understand how impacts are related to differences in vulnerability, and how vulnerabilities can be reduced and impacts can be mitigated via short-term adjustments and longer-term adaptations.
Benefits to scientific community, planners, and public and relevance to climate program
The benefits of this research will be usable knowledge for local decision makers and stakeholders on how fisheries and fisheries-dependent communities, including shoreside infrastructure) are vulnerable to climate change and what can be done to make them more resilient to climate change-related stressors. The results can help build awareness of possible impacts, helping to encourage better planning. In addition, the project will produce scenarios of vulnerabilities and summaries of the actions that could be taken to enhance resilience to the stressors or the impacts in specific communities. Fisheries managers can benefit from the project by gaining a better understanding how climate change can impact the socio-ecological fisheries system and the implications such impacts may have on the success of fisheries management plans. Finally, an important part of the project is to evaluate the role of decision support tools and dialogue-based participatory assessment and modeling activities in building awareness and knowledge. Our results will contribute to a better understanding of factors that contribute to individual and group learning. Given NOAA’s emphasis on the development of decision support tools, it is important to understand how people learn and what can be done to promote learning.
Goals and objectives 
The goals for the proposed project are twofold:
·      First, the project will improve understandings of how a changing climate will affect fishing communities’ abilities to maintain marine fisheries and the local economies historically dependent upon them.
·      Second, the project will investigate the role of a structured dialogue and participatory modeling process to support decision makers in fishing communities addressing consequences, vulnerabilities, and adaptive strategies in a context of climate stressors. 
To realize these goals, we propose to further develop and demonstrate our structured dialogue and participatory modeling process that our past research has proven promising. It provides an efficient approach to develop and organize decision-relevant information. It begins with participants diagramming the fundamental cause-effect relationships in the system. This process uses a causal model of hazard events. We have adapted this general concept by adding sensitivity and adaptive actions to the diagram, essentially integrating vulnerability knowledge into the causal model of hazard events. We use this to elaborate scenarios that focus attention on relationships between critical variables, consider potential management interventions to influence cause-effect relationships (both positive and negative), and link to key consequences. We call this the Vulnerability and Consequence Adaptation Scenarios (VCAPS) process. We will then link the causal diagrams to visual data (databases and maps) and systems dynamic (SD) models. The SD models are also made with the involvement of the local decision makers and stakeholders. These explore specific elements of the system in greater detail. They can be qualitative or quantitative models, depending on the needs of the local decision makers, the availability of data, and the maturity of the science.  

VCAPS’s bottom-up approach can help fisheries communities build decision-relevant and community-specific scenarios and models of exposure pathways and consequences to identify complex vulnerabilities associated with climate change. The involvement of scientists and decision makers will ensure that scenarios and models reflect the best available knowledge and accurately reflect uncertainties.

We will implement our process (VCAPS + SD process) in three Atlantic fishing communities, one in each of the following states: South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Maine. In each community our objectives are to:

  1.  Apply the VCAPS + SD process in communities currently engaging with coastal management planning and climate change risks,
  2. Demonstrate the feasibility and usefulness of the extended VCAPS + SD process as a planning and decision-making tool for communities that seek to support the marine fishing in a period of climatic change,
  3. Assess the factors that contribute to individual and group learning through the use of decision support tools and dialogue-based participatory processes for hazard and vulnerability assessment.


Read more about the theoretical background of this project.

There is no background information available for this project at this time.


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February sunset in South Thomaston
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Erosion of a bank at Wellfleet harbor
Erosion control Wellfleet Harbor
Salt marsh on Lieutenant Island Rd
Good turn out at 2013 Wellfleet Harbor Conference