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Spatial Complexity, Resilience, and Policy Diversity: Fishing on Lake-rich Landscapes

Stephen R Carpenter, University of Wisconsin-Madison
William A Brock, University of Wisconsin-Madison


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The dynamics of and policies governing spatially coupled social-ecological mosaics are considered for the case of fisheries in a lake district. A microeconomic model of households addresses agent decisions at three hierarchic levels: (1) selection of the lake district from among a larger set of alternative places to live or visit, (2) selection of a base location within the lake district, and (3) selection of a portfolio of ecosystem services to use. Ecosystem services are represented by dynamics of fish production subject to multiple stable domains and trophic cascades. Policy calculations show that optimal policies will be highly heterogeneous in space and fluid in time. The diversity of possible outcomes is illustrated by simulations for a hypothetical lake district based loosely on the Northern Highlands of the State of Wisconsin. Lake districts are frequently managed as if lakes were independent, similar, endogenously regulating systems. Our findings contradict that view. One-size-fits-all (OSFA) policies erode ecological and social resilience. If regulations are too stringent, social resilience declines because of the potential rewards of overharvesting. If regulations are too lax, ecological resilience is diminished by overharvesting in some lakes. In either case, local collapses of fish populations evoke spatial shifts of angling effort that can lead to serial collapses in neighboring fisheries and degraded fisheries in most or all of the lakes. Under OSFA management, the natural resources of the entire landscape become more vulnerable to transformation because of changes in, e.g., human population, the demand for resources, or fish harvesting technology. Multiplicity of management regimes can increase the ecological resilience, social resilience, and inclusive value of a spatially heterogeneous social-ecological system. Because of the complex interactions of mobile people and multistable ecosystems, management regimes must also be flexible over time. A rights-based scheme may facilitate policy regimes with appropriate spatial patterns and intertemporal fluidity. In lake fisheries, habitat protection adds an important dimension to policy design. Habitat is a slowly changing variable that creates ecological resilience and thereby provides managers with a broader range of options.

Key words

angler dynamics, fish habitat, inclusive value, lake, lake management, landscape ecology, multiple attractors, natural resource policy, resilience, social-ecological system, spatial dynamics, sport fishery, sport fishery, sport fishery management

Copyright © 2004 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087