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Conceptualizing and Operationalizing Social Resilience within Commercial Fisheries in Northern Australia

Nadine A Marshall, CSIRO
Paul A Marshall, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

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How can we tell whether resource-dependent people are socially resilient to institutional change? This question is becoming increasingly important as demand for natural resources escalates, requiring resource managers to implement policies that are increasingly restrictive on resource users. Yet policy changes are frequently made without a good understanding of the likely social and economic consequences. Knowledge of the resilience of resource users to changes in resource-use policies can assist in the design and implementation of policies that minimize the impacts on people while maximizing the sustainability of ecosystem goods and services. Despite the appeal of resilience as a framework for sustaining human-environment relations, there has been a distinct lack of explicit application of the concept by natural-resource managers. In response, we build on general resilience theory to develop a conceptual model of social resilience for resource-dependent users. We test and refine the operational virtues of the model using the commercial fishing industry in North Queensland. Detailed surveys of individual resource users provide data on historic response, expected well-being, and capacity as a basis for assessing resilience. We find that the response of fishers to generic yet anticipated change events is determined by four key characteristics: (1) perception of risk associated with change; (2) perception of the ability to plan, learn, and reorganize; (3) perception of the ability to cope; and (4) level of interest in change. These responses represent relative measures of the likely response of resource users to prospective changes in resource policy that affect the way in which the resource is used or accessed.

Key words

social resilience; social adaptation; social impacts; institutional change; socio-ecological systems; integrated research; policy response; natural resource management; fishing; Australia
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087