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Collapse of a historic oyster fishery: diagnosing causes and identifying paths toward increased resilience

Edward V. Camp, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida
William E. Pine III, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida
Karl Havens, Florida Sea Grant College Program and School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida
Andrew S. Kane, Department of Environmental and Global Health, College of Public Health and Health Professions, University of Florida; Aquatic Pathobiology Laboratories, Emerging Pathogens Institute, University of Florida; Center for Human and Environmental Toxicology, University of Florida
Carl J. Walters, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia
Tracy Irani, Family, Youth and Community Sciences Department, University of Florida; Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Angela B Lindsey, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida; Family, Youth and Community Sciences Department and Center of Public Issues Education, University of Florida
J. Glenn Morris, Jr., Emerging Pathogens Institute, University of Florida; College of Medicine, University of Florida


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Diagnosing causal factors of change at the ecosystem level is challenging because multiple drivers often interact at various spatial and temporal scales. We employ an integrated natural and social science approach to assess potential mechanisms leading to the collapse of an estuarine social-ecological system, and recommend future paths to increased system resilience. Our case study is the collapse of the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) fishery in Apalachicola Bay, Florida, USA, and the associated impacts on local resource dependent communities. The oyster fishery collapse is the most recent in a series of environmental stressors to this region, which have included hurricanes and tropical storms, drought, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We found it likely that the oyster collapse was not related to contamination from the recent oil spill, but rather to factors affecting oyster recruitment and survival, which may have been mediated by both human, e.g., fishing-related habitat alteration, and environmental, e.g., increased natural mortality from predators and disease, factors. The relative impact of each of these factors is likely to increase in the future because of changing climate and increased demand for fishery, water, and petroleum resources. Successful restoration and persistence of a viable oyster fishery will depend on: (1) implementation of some minimal best management practices, e.g., extensive habitat restoration via shell addition, and some spatial closures to harvest, (2) improving environmental knowledge and promoting episodic learning through enhanced monitoring and experimental management, and (3) continued community engagement necessary to produce adaptable governance suitable to responding to future unexpected challenges.

Key words

climate change; community resilience; drought; estuaries; oyster fishery

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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