Adaptive capacity for social and environmental change The role of networks in Chile’s small-scale fisheries

University dissertation from Stockholm : Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Abstract: World’s small-scale fisheries (SSF) face permanent and increasing external changes and shocks that challenge their viability and potential as an engine of human sustainable development. It is broadly assumed and expected that fishers and their communities have the capacity to adapt to current and future social and ecological changes. While social networks and social capital have been regarded as key components of adaptive capacity in SSF, there is little empirical understanding of how they operate and of their effectiveness in the context of multiple and overlapping perturbations. This thesis examines the role of social networks and social capital in explaining the performance and responses of fisher organizations and communities to the implementation of a resource co-management policy, to the varied impacts of an abrupt coastal disaster, and to the interaction of both drivers. It consists of five papers that analyze the successes and failures of small-scale fisher organizations in the central-south of Chile in adapting and responding to the Management and Exploitation Areas for Benthic Resources system and to the massive February 2010 earthquake and tsunami. Paper I explores the levels of linking and bridging social capital among fisher organizations in Valparaiso and Bio-Bío regions, and their correlation with co-management performance variables. Paper II describes the material devastation of existing SSF capacity caused by the tsunami, and identifies the factors associated with immediate evacuation responses (i.e. incl. bonding social capital) that explain high levels of survival among fishing communities in the O’Higgins, Maule and Bio-Bío regions. Paper III studies how the interplay between internal (i.e. linking social capital) and external factors (i.e. levels of damage and isolation) can help explain differences in post-disaster recovery of fisher organizations in the Bio-Bío. Paper IV assesses whether and how co-management governance networks changed in the Bio-Bío as a consequence of tsunami impacts, as compared to the non-impacted case of Valparaiso. Paper V investigates the particular case of permanent earthquake-driven ecosystem transformations in a coastal wetland in Bio-Bío, the associated impacts on ecosystem services and human well-being, and the livelihood responses of fishing and non-fishing groups. The findings show that developing broad and strong social networks and building social capital are necessary conditions of SSF organizations and communities’ response and adaptive capacities in the face of policy changes and environmental disasters. However, the study also indicates that they are not sufficient in and of themselves, which suggests a careful and nuanced consideration of these factors as potential answers to the problems affecting SSF. Thus, it is important to: 1) differentiate the types of social capital as potentially relevant for particular outcomes; 2) consider potential external factors affecting social capital; 3) take into consideration that social networks/social capital can change over time; 4) treat social networks/social capital as descriptive, bounded concepts about the social reality (i.e. not normative). Social networks and social capital provide SSF communities with adaptive capacity to cope with change, but ultimately the achievement of long-term sustainability is highly dependent on their levels of vulnerability and to the magnitude of the external perturbations.