MIT Sea Grant: New England's Fishing Communities Table of Contents

2. Conceptual Framework

2.1. A Regional Ecosystem approach
2.2. Space and Place in Human Ecosystems
2.3. The Natural Resource Region
2.4. The Natural Resource Community as a Regional Base Unit
2.5. Forms of Capital
2.6. Total Capital and the NRR
2.7. Externalities to the NRR
2.8. Flows and changes in total capital
2.9. Case Study of the New England Groundfish Fishery
2.10.1. Developing an NRR Model for New England

2.1. A Regional Ecosystem Approach

The conceptual framework for this report is based on a regional approach that has its foundation in ecosystem modeling. Internationally, the ecosystem paradigm is emerging as a dominant approach to large-scale management of natural resources. For example, resource managers and social scientists concerned with the degradation of the worlds’ seas suggest focusing on large ecosystems as a way to recover ecosystem health and make the utilization of renewable resources sustainable. Emergence of this paradigm has also been spurred by the failure of single species approach to management. Yet, theoretical and applied paradigms linking human systems and large-scale ecosystems are undeveloped.

Some fundamental issues that are being addressed include the spatial and temporal scales of governance and policy-making arrangements that structure the institutional linkages between marine ecosystems and their governance. However, the dynamic between regional natural systems and human actions at the individual, household and community level is generally not included in ecosystem modeling and praxis. Given the worldwide state of decline in ecosystem health, there is an urgent need for marine policy bodies to develop and apply conceptual-theoretical models of human action that complement the large-scale ecosystem approach.

This report examines fishing-dependent communities in a regional context. We use a community and regional (large-scale) approach to the analysis of the New England fisheries in a way that complements Sherman et al.’s work on Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs). LMEs are geographic areas of oceans that have distinct bathymetry, hydrography, productivity, and trophically dependent populations. The LME approach attempts to link the management of drainage basins and coastal areas with continental shelves and dominant coastal currents. Our report provides a framework for monitoring and assessing socio-economics and governance of the associated Natural Resource Regions (NRR) of the US Northeast Shelf LME. The Natural Resource Regions are defined through identification of networks of communities acting as nodes of regional total capital flow. Communities are not viewed in isolation, but are defined internally through social, ethnic, and historical ties and externally through networks of regional and extra- regional total capital flow.

2.2. Space and Place in Human Ecosystems Return to Top

Although not conceptually linked to large-scale marine systems, the study of uses of space and place, including degradation by human action, is receiving some renewed attention from social scientists. 14 These studies contribute much to our understanding of how people perceive their connection to place. Yet most efforts to understand induced changes in environment suffer from a parochialism of scale. At the extreme are interpretations of human-environment interactions that take a person-centered (ego centered) approach to place as modified through human action. 15
By emphasizing localized, individual or community-level outcomes, yet ignoring potential impacts and connections to regional and extra-regional factors, researchers can miss much of what determines the ultimate direction and magnitude of human-induced environmental change. While providing valuable insights into the localized interpretation and use of space and place, such foci also miss the connection of humans, communities, and the places they occupy as well as change as a regional process, dominated by human behavioral and value systems interfaced with environment.

The political ecology of change does provide us with some parallels to a regional human-environment approach. For example, Giblin describes how the 19th century politics of environmental control created famine for farmers in Northeast Tanzania. 16
In this case, the ability of farming communities to control disastrous cattle infections and subsequent starvation depended on how external forces affected patronage and redistributed wealth. The most important relations of production were between patron and client, so the policy of patronage determined whether pre-colonial farmers succeeded in controlling disease, accumulating livestock and food reserves, and preventing drought from causing famine.

Adaptation to disruptive events within social systems has also been explored. For events such as cyclic ecological problems of drought, earthquakes, or floods, many societies are noted to possess adaptive flexibility, also described as "equilibration." 17 Equilibration is adjustment to changed environmental conditions in the face of new socio-technological exigencies, and is well documented in the ethnographic literature.18 However, no parallel models of regional change exist to guide governance of marine natural resources. Modeling of natural resource management in fisheries has been dominated by biologists using, for example, such tools as the Schaefer-Gordon curve in fisheries management, with collaborating contributions from economists. A lack of a regional perspective that includes social and cultural aspects of human action makes such bio-economic models inadequate as vehicles for the thorough understanding of human transformations of natural resources.

Moreover, with the recent exception of economic modeling, input of social scientists to natural resource models has historically been trivialized by policy and management bodies. For example, the standard requirement for social science assessment of U. S. fisheries management stipulates use of the "best available information." Unfortunately, due in part to the lack of longitudinal studies and/or consistent data collection and analysis, the "best available" often consists of collected anecdotal opinions from public hearings as well as out-of-context and dated information applied from one fishery to another. Furthermore, what information is available is often reviewed in a very hurried and reactive manner.

Social science data often fall into the category of add-ons to dominant biophysical or bio-economic models, which leave little room for human thought and action, and give even less consideration to the human consequences of resource management schemes.19 Yet, the very nature of the critical resource transformations that are the target of management are founded in human perceptions and actions. It is not surprising that resource managers are not aware of the powerful influence of most non-bioeconomic factors in resource transformations, as their policy mandates are frequently swayed by participation in specialized intellectual environments that are inflexible in their consideration of new forms of interpretation. 20 Social scientists too are partly to blame, as resource managers have not been provided the necessary ‘human’ models to manage such human actions at the same regional scale in which they strive to deal with ecosystem transformations. The consequences of this shortcoming are potentially severe, and can include the collapse and degradation of the resource base despite the best intentions to manage it. One of the intents of this chapter is to help rectify this situation.

A remarkable pioneer formulation of a regional human resource model is Bennet’s study of adaptive strategies of social groups of the Canadian Great Plains.21 Bennet describes how his regional approach differs from prior intellectual traditions: "In defining an approach for this study we had available the following academic research traditions: human or cultural geography, with its descriptive emphasis on cultural-environmental correlation; economic development, with its concern for the ways agrarian populations use resources to forge a viable economy; or cultural ecology, with its emphasis on the important role played by economic and technological adaptations in shaping institutions. None of these approaches by itself seemed to provide a suitable format for the synthesis of a large quantity of data from a particular geographical and human region." 22

Bennet chose a regional approach over a community-based one in part because the complexity of resource flows of the Great Plains setting demanded it: "We selected a regional instead of the usual nucleated community studied by anthropologists and sociologists because of the way human activities are distributed in the Great Plains. Since resources are unevenly distributed, people who depend entirely on livestock production will occupy different portions of the region than those who depend on grain crops. Indians are confined to marginal "bush" areas of the hills. Some towns will have many services, others are highly specialized."23

Another early precursor to our model is the work of Pelto and Poggie in which they outline the utility of regional approaches to the understanding of processes of culture change. "The community approach used in anthropological studies produces rich and detailed descriptions of how rapid social and cultural changes have transformed the lives of individuals and local groups. On the other hand, such studies often depict local developments without sufficient attention to the ways in which the local community is articulated to the larger regional and national socioeconomic and political systems. Moreover, anthropologists frequently have placed heaviest emphasis on the unusual and different–the exceptional cases of modernization, good and bad. Thus it is not clear how these studies can be built into a more generalized theoretical framework."24

2.3. The Natural Resource Region Return to Top

We propose a regional model for New England to understand human-environmental interactions as shaped and transformed by various forms of capital in their interface with large-scale marine ecosystems. This approach builds on Bennet’s and Pelto and Poggie’s work, but differs in that it defines regions through a network of communities acting as nodes of regional total capital flow. Communities are not viewed in isolation, but are defined internally through social, ethnic, and historical ties and externally through networks of regional and extra- regional total capital flow.

Capital–tangible or intangible resources that contribute to the long-term adaptation of a person, group, or population–is used here in the broadest sense to include human, social, cultural, biophysical, and economic transformations and exchanges, which we refer to as ‘flows.’ An empirical question in regional studies is the extension of ‘capital’ beyond the economic. In some cases, economic capital may predominate as the most significant driver in a community and regional system. In most cases, we suspect other forms or combinations of capital forms (social, human, cultural, and economic) may predominate, with economic capital being one of a complex mix with others. The patterns and importance of various combinations of capital flow must be ascertained by empirical research and not assumed to be the same everywhere.

Economic capital is conceived to include more than monetary resources, but involves formal and informal exchanges of goods and services, with the primary source derived through production and transformation of biophysical capital (e.g. marine resources). For example, groundfishing in Downeast Maine traditionally includes exchange of labor (human capital–helping offload fish) and information (cultural capital–letting folks know where the fish are) among community residents without any formal monetary exchanges.25 Such reciprocity results in the flow of long-term sustainable benefits that carry much more than narrowly conceived economic value.

Elsewhere, in a community-based assessment of the Native response to the Alaska Native Claims Act (ANCSA), Berger found overwhelming rejection by Alaska Natives of proposed economic incorporation. 26 Incorporation meant dividing up the natural resources (land, minerals, trees) into corporate stock, from which the corporations were to benefit. Berger demonstrated that the social and cultural capital associated with the Native subsistence way of life and resources were considered to be of much greater importance (value) to Native communities than any economic capital to be accrued through incorporation of Native lands and communities.

Since Berger’s work, virtually all the Native corporations under ANCSA are bankrupt. Outside investors with no stake in maintaining the social and cultural capital of native Alaskan communities have been purchasing land and associated resources since a 1992 ANCSA sunset clause on stockholder control. Subsequent social problems and community decline in these Native populations confirms Berger’s assessment that the natural resources possessed greater long-term social and cultural value in sustaining Alaska Native communities and their nature-focused life-ways than what was derived as short-term economic gain for corporate (community) stockholders.

Besides recognizing the importance of capital in all its forms, we propose that marine resource policy and management can benefit from a regional approach. We argue that by taking an isolated community, overall statistical, or individual perspective on place-space transformations, social scientists have misinterpreted cause and effect, seeing only disconnected pieces of what are actually wider processes of a regional and extra-regional dynamic of human-environment interaction.

There may, in fact, be inter-cultural diversity, communities may vary and there may be differently linked networks in the same region, but these are empirical questions that must be addressed in each specific NRR studied. Our focus is on networks of communities linked to marine resource utilization. Other regional use networks focused on such enterprises as agriculture, the service industry, manufacturing, and tourism necessarily overlap and integrate with the marine resource networks.

Variation in levels of capital exchange in marine-resource dependent regions reflects a continuum of community isolation and integration of capital flows. More isolated maritime communities are often economically marginal, have limited control over regional natural resources, are frequently culturally or ethnically distinct and geographically distant from more structurally differentiated communities in a region. 27 More integrated maritime communities are economically tied to regional networks; can represent a complex mix of ethnicity and cultural practices; and are less distinctive from and geographically closer to other such communities.28

The regional model proposed here, the Natural Resource Region (NRR) unifies elements of human actions and values to allow for interpretation and application of human factors by natural resource managers working within the framework of Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs). 29 The LME model outlines five linked modules to assess ecosystem sustainability: productivity of the ecosystem, fish and fisheries, pollution and ecosystem health, socioeconomic conditions, and governance. 30 Modules of governance and socio-economics are at present undeveloped for LMEs.

The NRR is focused on the ‘socioeconomic’ module, but takes a much broader perspective in that it expands ‘socio-economics’ to include social, cultural, human, economic and biophysical capital and their dynamic interactions. In the interface with LMEs, primary units of human-environment interaction–individuals, families, or communities–are to be viewed as interconnected within regional networks held together by forms of capital. The community as a nodal form of human organization helps structure regional interactions and capital flows. In aggregate, communities provide for points of spatial reference by which to study the LME/NRR dynamic. We begin detailed discussion of the model with the building blocks of NRRs–Natural Resource Communities (NRCs).31

2.4. The Natural Resource Community as a Regional Base Unit Return to Top

In a collection of case studies on folk management in fisheries around the world, Dyer and McGoodwin draw upon the concept of the Natural Resource Community (NRC) to characterize fishing communities worldwide.32 The NRC is a social unit anchored in local history and local understandings of ecological relationships, consisting of "¼ a population of individuals living within a bounded area whose primary cultural existence is based on the utilization of renewable natural resources." 33 Residents of fishery-based Natural Resource Communities tend to hold in common a localized worldview, and locally developed assertions about how to best manage local natural resources. As such, NRCs can come in conflict with management regimes that impose external controls without acknowledging local interests, as often occurs in developed fisheries regimes.34

Although fishermen interact, often quite regularly, with individuals and institutions who have few or no ties to fishing, "where they [fishermen] live and work is still a localized, specific place, and quite often they perceive that they take their catches from a specific, bounded, marine ecosystem, which from their perspective has unique systemic attributes." 35 Thus, the NRC model provides a useful spatial context upon which to begin the study of regional and extra-regional ecosystem dynamics.

Nevertheless, unlike the original conceptualization of the NRC, which describes communities as spatially ‘bounded,’ most contemporary fishing NRCs are not isolated from national governance nor from the commercial and other institutions of the cities, towns and villages which share their region. Also, residents in marine-dependent communities do not perceive the ecosystems upon which they depend as closed systems. Moreover, extra-regional influences such as global market systems can dominate or even destroy regional networks and the communities they comprise. For example, in the late 19th century, the marine fisheries of Maine were tied into a three-way trade of sugar cane, dried fish, and salt with Europe and the Caribbean.36 When the external demand for dried cod collapsed, the offshore marine fishery also collapsed, resulting in significant social, cultural and economic decline in the coastal Maine NRR.

Gallaher and Padfield, in their theory of the ‘dying community’, describe such declines as including (1) abandonment of a natural region, (2) decay of a sociocultural system or civilization and (3) extinction of a particular form of association.37 Their ‘form of association’ is synonymous with the totality of interdependent relationships–or total capital–that define a community. Furthermore, the social and cultural fabric of individual communities is interwoven through a series of regional exchanges–economic, ritual, and otherwise. These exchanges define the degree of community dependence on the marine environment, and can be linked to varying regional and extra-regional influences of the marketplace, changing environments (e.g. sea level rise), governance, and extraction technologies and their associated innovations (e.g. nylon versus cotton nets).38

Dyer and Griffith isolated five variables that help identify community dependence on a fishery.39 These are relative isolation or integration of fishery-dependent people into alternative economic sectors; vessel types/ gear strategies within the port’s fishery; degree of regional specialization; percentage of population involved in fishery or fishery-related industries; and competition and conflict within the port among different components of the fishery.

While each of these components is considered in the profiles that follow, our analyses combine them in different ways. For example, the indices based on occupational categories combines the variable of relative isolation or integration into alternative economic sectors with the variable concerning the percentage of population involved in fishery-related industries. The profiles also describe vessel and gear types, specialization and to some extent, the competition within ports.

Clearly, the components of community dependence on fishing define the social, economic and cultural relationships between fishermen and their communities. Benefits that flow from these relationships are multiplied through a series of networked community exchanges and transformations based on different forms of capital. Understanding the various forms of capital and their relationships provides the basis for our regional model.

2.5. Forms of Capital Return to Top

Complementary forms of capital and their interactions allow for the production and reproduction of systems of marine resource utilization such as fisheries. Social, cultural, human, biophysical and economic capital maintain production units such as households and fishing crews and over time allow for recruitment of new community members into the occupational hierarchies of the fishery.

Social capital

The concept of social capital–the configuration and functions of people’s personal ties–was explicitly articulated by the late James Coleman but earlier versions have appeared in sociological and anthropological theory. 40 Drawing on several works in sociology and anthropology that demonstrate ways in which social ties influence and organize economic behavior, Coleman arrives at a definition of social capital that returns to his central themes of behavior as the product of self-interest and control: "Social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity, but a variety of different entities having two characteristics in common: They consist of some aspect of a social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of individuals who are within the structure. Like other forms of capital, social capital is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that would not be attainable in its absence. Like physical capital and human capital, social capital is not completely fungible, but is fungible with respect to certain activities. A given form of social capital that is valuable in facilitating certain actions may be useless or even harmful for others. Unlike other forms of capital, social capital inherits the structure of relations between persons and among persons. It is lodged neither in individuals nor in physical implements of production."41

In Coleman’s sense, social capital enables individuals with reduced or no access to investment capital to accumulate the symbolic and material means to participate successfully in an economic activity such as fishing. Social capital depends, however, on the social field in which people give and receive jobs, information, low-interest or no-interest loans, gifts, and so forth. It is that social field which gives social capital life, transcending the individual without leaving her or him out of the equation, "...both accounting for different outcomes at the level of individual actors and making the micro-to-macro transition without elaborating the social structural details through which this occurs."42

The social relations that engender social capital also assure its circulation through the group and its continual replenishment and reproduction. Drawing on social capital carries with it the obligation to replenish the fund, depending on trust, expectation, normative values, cultural rules, etc., and some means–authority, shame, gossip, force–to enforce the obligation. In the context of the regional resource model proposed here, we define social capital as the configuration and functioning of social ties that occur within and between communities. Social capital is key to the flow of other forms of capital, as well as central to the dynamics of governance and resource utilization.

Human and cultural capital

Closely related to social capital is human and cultural capital, which are key to understanding fishery dependence. These forms of capital are similar to social capital in that they depend on social ties that have meaning for the individuals who benefit from them. Human capital includes people and their individual occupational and familial roles, achieved through schooling, apprenticeship, experience, and other formal and informal training. This concept is better known among economists than either social or cultural capital, and is recognized by the general public (including potential employers) as something, if not entirely tangible, certainly useful.

Cultural capital is less familiar to and less widely recognized by the general public. Nevertheless, most potential employers inadvertently consider cultural capital in selecting employees. Cultural capital consists of specific behaviors, values, and skills transmitted among and between members of a population, including across generations, applied to their adaptation to specific environments including the transformation and utilization of natural, human, and social resources in those environments.

Cultural capital can be either subtle or overt characteristics and learned skills and behavior. The use of language and slang, notions of personal space, appropriate dress, presentation and learned use of specific technologies is part of a group’s cultural capital. In addition, the myriad parts of personal cultures, such as personal preferences that make one more or less satisfied, comfortable and, most importantly, predictable to be around are part of cultural capital. People acquire cultural capital through families, peer groups, neighborhoods, special cultural centers such as bars or exclusive college campuses, churches or other voluntary associations.

Function of social, human and cultural capital

Berkes and Folke define cultural capital as "factors that provide human societies with the means and adaptations to deal with the natural environment."43 We extend the adaptive character in our formulation to include human, social, and economic capital variations and their interactions. If these interactions are disrupted or modified in a way that significantly reduces utilized marine resources, they may be modified to allow the system to recover, or if the disruption is too great, systematic collapse may take place.

It is assumed that the sociocultural evolution of specific adaptive strategies and occupations in a natural system such as a fishery can involve considerable individual and intergenerational investment to develop appropriate social, cultural and human capital networks necessary for the cultural and biological production and reproduction of households and families. This also entails long-term investment in gaining and applying knowledge necessary to compete for marine resources. As long as a healthy fishery exists - one that continues to promote the generation, mobilization, and use of the various forms of capital - current individuals operating within the industry will be able to weather economic and ecological downturns and reproduce the fishery through adaptive shifts in resource utilization patterns.

Understanding the interplay of social, human, cultural, capital with economic and biophysical capital has rarely been attempted. In their discussion of the share systems that characterize payments to labor and capital in the New England groundfishing industry, Doeringer, Moss, and Terkla recognize the importance of these alternative forms of capital without explicitly defining them as we have.44

Like the communities that make them up, Natural Resource Regions can be variably ‘open’ or ‘closed’ depending on the dynamic flow of biophysical, cultural, and human capital. A fishery can also be the sole socioeconomic entity in a region or it may be embedded in a more complex socioeconomic whole, as is the case in New England.45 We propose that NRRs are interconnected by the flow of total capital — information, ideas, people and their behavior, technology, money, resources and seasonal and annual changes in fishing strategies.

A fundamental premise of the regional model is that use of natural resources for one’s primary livelihood engenders relationships of dependence between the extractors (e.g. fishermen) and their support networks. Significant changes in access to fisheries resources thus has a multiplier effect across these personal networks that affects all levels of the social structure, including communities, businesses, organizations, families and individuals. These networks are both formal and informal, and fluctuate with changes in participants and communities within the region. Dependence on renewable natural resources such as fisheries presents an opportunity, but also limits the degree to which participants can engage in alternate activities. As one fishery-dependent informant in Downeast Maine puts it: "¼ when I first went inland 10 or 12 miles from the coast and I looked around, I asked myself, how can these people possibly make a living?"

2.6. Total capital and the NRR Return to Top

The direction of life activities towards natural resource extraction enlists various forms of capital–human, cultural, economic, and social, that when interfaced with the biophysical resources of the adjacent marine environment define the character of the region in which communities interact. The forms of capital which make up this dynamic in their whole are the total capital of the regional human ecosystem or NRR.46

Components of total capital are the same as those for NRCs with the addition of marine biophysical capital. Total capital is conceptually defined as the sum of all the component units of capital and their interactive states within a region. The interface between a regional natural system of extractive NRCs, their capital flows and the associated LME is here defined as a Natural Resource Region (NRR). An NRR is conceptualized as a network of Natural Resource Communities, linked to the marine resources of a Large Marine Ecosystem, whose existence is defined by the interactive flow of total capital. The context of this conceptualization may have a marine and fisheries focus depending upon its linkage to LMEs. The ‘marine’ NRR overlaps with the LME in both the terrestrial and marine sectors. For example, a fishing boat out at sea is a production-extraction unit of the NRR, relying directly on the physical attributes of the ocean to tap into the biological productivity of the fisheries of the LME (the NRR’s biophysical capital). The fishing boat is thus an extension of the NRC from which it came, carrying with it social, cultural, and human and economic capital in its hunt for fish resources.

Non-marine manifestations of large ecosystems, such as the Great Plains or the Amazon River Basin, have their own NRC networks and capital flows, and thus also represent NRRs. Linkages to biophysical capital can be dominated by economic, cultural, or social capital, but most commonly in a NRR is a complex mix of these–comprising what is often described in fishery-dependent NRCs as a "way of life." The conceptualization of capital flows within an NRR network lends understanding to the occupational valuation placed on a "way of life." For example, Doeringer, Moss and Terkla show how kinship support systems–a form of social capital in our formulation–allow fishermen to maintain labor linkages to the fishing industry despite seemingly debilitating economic conditions.47

The Natural Resource Region model provides a spatial-temporal framework that links the biophysical with the human-ecological, and most importantly points the way to understanding system dynamics over space-time as forms of total capital flow in the system. The interaction between human, cultural, social, biophysical, and economic forms of capital in an NRR represents a continuous dynamic that changes over time and is subject to both internal and external influences. The NRR model provides managers with a powerful tool to help to anticipate the consequences of proposed policies and human-resource interactions arising as direct and indirect consequences of policies, often so lacking in attempts to ‘manage’ the environment.

2.7. Externalities to the NRR Return to Top

Regional studies of human ecological processes help make possible systematic examination of the range of variation within particular political-ecological zones rather than depending on single fishery-dependent communities as type cases. The externalities presented for each capital form are idealized, non-exhaustive lists, and for any specific case must be empirically studied to ascertain the contemporary political ecology and environmental history of the NRR under consideration. Local inventions would not be considered externalities in that they would be part of the dynamic component of cultural capital.


As an externality, technology refers to the means by which resources are extracted and transformed for human use, and is most frequently developed in extra-regional locations and "imported" into NRRs under study. Governance is an externality that identifies the form and function of decision-making bodies, including the nature of policies and how resource policies are implemented. Markets refer to the linkages of the producers in any particular NRR with buyers in other NRRs and/or with extra-national entities such as global markets (e.g., what Jentoft refers to as the "global fishing village" or Greider the "global capitalist system"). 48 Environment as a regional externality refers to processes and consequences of changes such as global climate, ecosystem-wide shifts in temperature regimes, or sea level rise associated with anthropogenic factors of pollution (e.g. the greenhouse effect), or as part of other large-scale cycles of natural changes.


Population as an externality refers to the pressure of migration into coastal NRRs. Throughout the developing world, the coastal zone represents one of the last refuges for the impoverished and dispossessed. Coastal regions of Southeast Asia are under pressure from landless immigrants seeking new resources, or from those moving from one environmentally degraded coastal area to another that still supports viable marine-based communities. In the developed world, coastal areas attract economic entrepreneurs, the elite, and others desiring the recreational-cultural capital offered by life near the sea.

Different forms of capital are equally weighted in our ideal model to avoid a priori valuing or devaluing any specific criteria at the expense of others. This does not mean their importance cannot differ across NRRs, as they clearly do. Such differentiation is guided by the nature of associated LMEs, and the ethnohistory and political ecology of associated human communities and their governance aggregates (e.g. states, counties). The operationalization and empirical measurement of these domains of capital and associated changes in externalities are currently being developed by the co-authors in field research in two diverse parts of the world–New England in the US, and Palawan in the Philippines.

Once assessment of total capital is completed, measured capital importance is ranked and compared. With this information, it is possible to anticipate the magnitude and direction of policy agendas (a governance externality) on the total capital flows of the NRR in question. This gives decision-makers the capacity to determine the most favorable policy options to apply in a specific Natural Resource Region in order to maximize desired management goals and minimize negative outcomes. This analysis considers the assessment of ‘total capital value’ to include direct value (derived goods and services), indirect values (e.g. ecosystem and NRC maintenance), option values (future potential uses), and existence values (derived from some esthetic appreciation of biophysical capital). An example of existence value derives from the knowledge of the continued existence of some marine species, whether personally observed or not.49

2.8. Flows and Changes in Total Capital Return to Top

Natural Resource Regions have been described here as consisting of networks of Natural Resource Communities, held together by the flow of total capital. These networks include communities directly interfaced with the biophysical capital and communities on the interior margin, connected by roads or by waterways to the marine environment. To understand the interactive flows of the different forms of capital, we must examine the conditions under which residents of Natural Resource Communities operate within the system. A basic assumption here is that there is some degree of reliance on natural resources, in this case, the biophysical capital of a Large Marine Ecosystem. The concept of biophysical capital used here is similar to "natural capital," first introduced by Vogt. 50

The occupational roles involved in biophysical capital extraction define NRC residents as extensions of their environment. 51 However, this does not mean that such systems are static and unchanging. NRRs are constantly in flux, in rhythm with the changing availability of biophysical capital to residents. For example, a downward trend in the availability of one targeted fish species, for whatever reason, is often associated with shifting effort towards other species by fishing units.52 Innovation and invention in resource extraction can also shift the balance of resource availability, at times favoring one group over another, or at times resulting in the total collapse of exploited fishery stocks. Also, seasonal shifts in effort from one species to another are often practiced in NRRs. Pelagic seasonal stocks are supplemented in the off-season with benthic shellfish or crustaceans (e.g., combining lobster fishing with seasonal herring fishing by weirs in the eastern part of the Gulf of Maine sub-LME).

Response to biophysical capital decline

When environmental factors result in a significant decline in available biophysical capital in an NRR, residents respond in culturally patterned ways. Unfortunately, the dynamic equilibrium in many world NRRs and their associated LMEs is being disrupted beyond normal recovery from intense anthropogenic pressures degrading the ability of environments to recover and ultimately leading to environmental disaster. The identified human-nature relationship that follows disaster in an NRR can be conceptually linked by the ecological-symbolic approach. 53 This approach recognizes the existence of culturally based responses to extreme environmental disruptions. Its basic tenants are: "(1) people exist in exchange relationships with their built, modified, and biophysical environments, and (2) disruptions in the ordered relationship between individuals, groups, and communities, and their built, modified, and natural environments are labeled and responded to as hazards and disasters."54 Disasters exceed the limits of the system to recover, and reaching such a state through poor policy or management, or failure of a technology externality (e.g. a major coastal oil spill) can permanently damage an NRR to the point of non-recovery.55

As a fundament of total capital flow in an NRR, it is assumed that there are limits to the system. Ecological models predict such limits in natural systems, but economic growth models generally do not. The explanatory power of the NRR relies on understanding limits and options presented by the total capital in the system. However, accepting and working within natural limits is antithetical to the economic strategy practiced by the wider capitalist society. 56 This worldview is best portrayed using what Catton and Dunlap call the Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP).57

The assumptions of the Dominant Social Paradigm are:

  1. Humans are fundamentally different from all other creatures on earth over which they have domination.
  2. Humans are masters of their destiny; they can choose their goals and learn to do whatever is necessary to achieve them.
  3. The world is vast, and thus provides unlimited opportunities for humans; and
  4. The history of humanity is one of progress, for every problem there is a solution, and thus progress need never cease.

A corollary to DSP is the construct, Economic Man, the idea that everyone acts individualistically to maximize satisfaction of their needs or desires. Hardin’s "Tragedy of the Commons," the most commonly quoted rationale for fisheries management, limited access, and privatization, is based on a belief that "Economic Man" will inevitably overuse any property held in common.58 As a result, the argument continues, common property should be privatized so that self-interest constrains the owner and improves stewardship.

Certainly, there were limits to natural systems. Unlimited access to resources without constraints on manner or means of extraction could lead to system collapse. However, examination of cooperative and co-management systems of fisheries management suggest there are alternatives to privatization. Furthermore, this project suggests that management is more appropriately conceived within the conceptual framework of the Natural Resource Region and the natural resource communities (NRC) of which they are composed.

Characteristics of NRCs that contrast them to the DSP model, and act as a buffer against degradation of the natural resource base are as follows:

  1. Residents of NRCs are strongly linked to their resource base by behavioral and ideational patterns that blend with the natural order.
  2. To the extent that anthropogenic activities may destroy renewable resources, NRC residents frequently attempt to practice local management of resources within their NRR. This allows for sustainable reproduction of total capital in the region.
  3. Because natural resources are utilized and renewed within bounded areas of LMEs, they are viewed as limited and limiting in the variety of opportunities they provide their human stewards.
  4. Progress, as in change towards a DSP model, is resisted to the extent that it threatens the sustainability of the community network and the capital flows that hold it together.59

The ideal NRC relies exclusively on renewable natural resources, but most contemporary fishing communities are not ‘pure’ NRCs. They are instead modified NRCs existing on a continuum of community somewhere between the ideal DSP and NRC types. The character of social capital is a key in distinguishing between a primarily DSP type community and a NRC, with the contrast between DSP social capital and NRC social capital being a central point of conflict.

An example of such conflict is the gentrification process and its impact on coastal fishing communities.60 As more community space is gentrified for tourist and associated recreational pursuits, the squeeze on the commercial fishing sectors inhibits the maintenance of total capital within the functioning NRR network. There are other less apparent costs as well. Social capital within an NRR is based on kinship and cooperative social ties. This has positive effects on household maintenance and occupational continuity within families. Other benefits include lowering social service costs and maintaining mental and physical health.61

Although impersonal social contracts predominate between residents and outside organizations, they are not prominent within the NRC units. Extended networks of family and worker relationships (e.g. fishing crews) allow for intense cooperative interaction in the occupational roles of natural resource extraction. By comparison, a DSP community within the same region relies heavily on social contracts both within and without the community. A social contract can be defined as a voluntary and mutual agreement to engage in purposefully limited cooperative endeavor.62 Emphasis on "social contract" versus "social relationship" can limit the degree of traditional stewardship expressed toward other capital components (e.g. biophysical capital). We illustrate the NRR model with an analysis of the contemporary Multispecies groundfish fishery of New England.

2.9. The New England NRR and the Multispecies Groundfish Fishery Return to Top

The 1976 Magnuson Fisheries and Conservation Act (re-authorized in1996 as the Magnuson-Stevens Act), was instituted to protect the marine resources of the United States. It established a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to regulate fisheries in the federal zone. Four years prior to the passage of the Magnuson Act, in an effort to ‘revitalize’ community-based fisheries, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was authorized to provide low-interest loans to build up a domestic fishing fleet. At the time, there were virtually no social scientists advising NMFS on policy and no assessment was made of the potential impact of increasing the economic production capital (boats and gear) of US fisheries communities.63 This loan program can be conceptualized as a "strong market externality" that artificially increased the available economic capital in the region. We suggest that the loan program was based on a DSP worldview that saw only economic opportunity in the EEZ without consideration of the potential long-term biophysical, social, cultural and human impacts to communities.

In New England, investors quickly took advantage of the loan program (which was open to anyone) and the fishing capacity of domestic fleets increased dramatically. Just about every major East Coast port including Gloucester, Boston, and New Bedford (Massachusetts), Portland and Rockland (Maine), Newport and Point Judith (Rhode Island) dramatically built up their fleets with powerful stern trawlers under the Fishing Vessel Obligation Guaranty Program.

Besides the buildup of the large dragger fleet, many small and medium size vessels were built, putting increased fishing pressure on both inshore and offshore stocks. Some of these smaller boast even ventured offshore to such rich areas in the Gulf of Maine and beyond as Cashes Ledge, Franklin Swell, Three Dory Ridge, and Platts Bank. 64 Contributing to the pressure on fishing stocks was the loss of prime areas of Georges Bank under a 1984 United Nations World Court decision. When the Court drew the Hague Line allocating parts of the Gulf of Maine and most of the Georges Bank’s productive Northeast peak to the Canadians, fishing effort concentrated on the remaining grounds and accelerated stock declines.

Key respondents in fishing communities claimed that many of those who took advantage of the fishing vessel loan program were newcomers to the fishery.65 Specifically, they claimed that from 1977-1980 many new vessel owners were outsiders whose primary occupations (e.g., doctor or lawyer) identified them as fishery "investors," not fishermen. As fishery "investors," they had no prior social, cultural, or human capital networks in the local fishing communities, and were thus not bound by the responsibilities and reciprocal exchanges of total capital that marked traditional fishing families, households, and networks. Furthermore, the sustainability and reproduction of the social, cultural, and human capital in the NRC fishing communities occupying the Natural Resource Regions of the New England Fisheries Management Zone was of no concern to these outsiders. This "outsider only" rationalization does not explain why Congress continued to reauthorize new funds until 1995.

Build up of the Groundfish fleet resulted in intense pressure on stocks, both inshore and offshore. As competition for groundfish resources increased, the breakdown and loss of capital (human, social, cultural, and biophysical) also increased both within and between fishing dependent communities.66 Competition and acrimony increased between both the fleets of different ports and gear types in the same ports: "…The draggers really believe that gillnets are one of the major problems because there are ghost nets that get left out in the ocean, and they fish forever." (Dragger; Gloucester, MA); "I mean, they should say, "it is the large scale mobile gear fleet tearing up the bottom (and) …negatively impacting the food chain at its source." (Gillnetter; Gloucester, MA).

With the increase in fleet capacity and the pressure to provide "return on investment," overfishing of stocks followed. "NMFS representatives and Senators Gravell and Chaffee consistently made the point that the majority of overfished stocks on the East Coast were being overfished by domestic fishermen.", Despite NMFS advice in the late 1970’s urging the New England Fishery Management Council (the Council) to address this problem, no effective measures were taken until implementation of Amendment 5 to the Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, a long negotiated plan to gradually cut fishing effort by 50 percent over 5 years. When NMFS scientists established that the primary groundfish stocks were more seriously depleted than originally thought, emergency regulations were imposed closing large portions of Georges Bank. The Council quickly drafted Amendment 7 to the Multispecies plan, drastically cutting the number of allowable days at sea (DAS) for the groundfishing vessels. It also eliminated significant exceptions to effort control regulations and broadened area closures to protect juvenile and spawning fish.

A 1998 National Research Council review of the New England groundfish stock assessment concluded that there was a significant overfishing capacity that could be directly traced to the government loan program. "When foreign harvesters were excluded when the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was introduced in the 1970s, various public plans were put into place to increase the capacity of the Northeast fishing fleet. The plans encouraged recruitment of harvesters and increased investments in the industry, evidently in excess of what the fishery could sustain."67

The overall impact of the groundfish declines and subsequent regulations were catastrophic. In 1980, there were 3,500 finfish harvesters and 5,700 workers in the processing sector in Massachusetts. By 1992, finfish harvesters had decreased to 1,500 and processing workers to 2,700 (a respective 58% and 53% decline in 12 years). Related social impacts ranged from declines in attendance and participation in local fishermen organizations, outmigration (some older fishermen even returned to Sicily and Portugal "in disgrace"), and fierce gear conflicts between draggers, gillnetters and longliners of groundfish. In addition, there was a withdrawal of economic support from local banking systems, attrition of fishermen (human capital) and loss of portside support facilities such as marine railways, and declines in health insurance holders in the industry.68

Notable household impacts included increased domestic strife and avoidance behavior: "We used to go out to the club and go to church, but I don’t do that anymore. What is the point? There is nothing good to talk about. We just go from the boat to the house. Sometimes we go to church, but it’s usually now only on Easter or other holidays." In Gloucester, MA, participation in the local fishing association Societa Siciliana decreased from 304 in 1991 to 89 in 1995 (a 70% decline) and Sons of Italy from 200 in 1991 to 79 in 1995 (a 60% decline). By comparison, non-fishing associations such as the Gloucester Elks, whose membership consisted of newly arrived Boston suburbanites, increased from 76 members in1991 to 185 in 1995.

In the health care sector, increasing health care costs and the changing nature of eligibility for public programs led to a high proportion of the industry being left without health insurance. Lack of insurance caused even greater hardship as regulations restricted fishing effort and incomes declined, forcing already stressed fishing families out of the industry. A survey of 485 finfish fishing industry households in Massachusetts found that increased insurance costs and declines in income forced many families to go without health insurance. 69 In 1996, forty-seven percent of surveyed male adults, 37 percent of women, and 34 percent of children were uninsured at least one month during the year, representing an overall ten year decrease in insured fishing family members for the region of 35 percent.

The total at risk from lack of health insurance was 52 percent, including 43 percent uninsured and an additional 9 percent who were uninsured at the time of the survey but had a period of insurance during the last year. By comparison, the National Medical Expenditure Survey found that only 20 percent of the U.S. population was uninsured for all or part of the year 1989.70 For the state of Massachusetts, the rate of uninsured was 13 percent for adults. Thus, the 1996-uninsured rate in fishing communities was at least three times higher than the statewide average.

Government reaction to the crisis included a $25 million buy-back program for groundfishing vessels, and retraining programs for fishermen. According to Andrea Marcaurelle, loan specialist for the NMFS Northeast Financial Services Office, the goal of the program "was to take out the most fishing capacity for the amount of money we had." Beginning with a $2 million pilot program which bought out 11 vessels, the initiative progressed with another $23 million and a final buyout count of 67 East Coast fishing vessels and their fishing permits. Bought out vessels where either scraped, sunk at sea, or transferred to non-fishery use such as research vessels for organizations such as the Maritime Discovery Center in Rochester, NY. 71 Ironically, the buyback program represented an attempt to decrease the over-capacity in economic (fishing) capital originally created by the vessel loan program. Unfortunately, a recent evaluation of the buyback program indicated that it ultimately failed to reduce capacity.72

Retraining programs represented an effort to redirect human capital into alternate occupational roles. Some characteristics of fishermen arising from their collective cultural capital posed challenges to the retraining effort. For example, many fishermen have independent natures and they find it difficult to comply with set (clocked) schedules within a workplace. Others have difficulty relating to support personnel with different worldviews and there are often linguistic barriers to retraining. In addition, fishermen who were 40-45 years of age regarded participation as evidence of having given up on fishing and considered it losing face in front of their peers. 73 Despite these barriers, by 2000 the retraining program run by the Gloucester Fishermen and Family Assistance Center, under the guidance of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, had successfully trained 305 fishermen and other eligible workers, 137 of who obtained new employment.74

The overall loss in social, cultural, and human capital during the groundfish crisis was accompanied by the breakdown of capital flows within and between fishing NRCs of New England. A cascade of multiplied effects reduced fish production, broke down credit relationships and social contracts, decreased cooperation and sharing on shore and at sea (e.g., sharing fishing information), and increased social problems as job satisfaction plummeted.75

The New England NRR groundfish case study illustrates how a strong market externality (low interest federal loans for purchase of fishing vessels) combined with the loss of a historically utilized and significantly important fishing area through the 1984 Hague Line decision (a governance externality) contributed to drastic declines in available biophysical capital (groundfish stocks). This destabilized the fishery-dependent NRCs of New England, creating subsequent declines in total capital and disruption of capital flows in the system. These declines continue to have severe community impacts that are socially and economically devastating to fishing families and households in the region.

An anthropologically informed, community NRC-based assessment guided by a NRR/total capital model could have mitigated the decline in the multispecies fishery and the associated human impacts that followed. For example, a careful assessment of the community impacts of the Fishing Vessel Obligation Program informed by the NRR model could have led to checks on overfishing capacity by restricting the program to community residents having direct and historically dependence on the fishery. This could have reduced overfishing and sustained the total capital networks of the now (belatedly) recognized Fishing Dependent Communities of the region.76

Successful operationalization of the NRR approach requires adaptive flexibility in natural resource governance strategies - a flexibility that is only now being considered in New England. Funding of regional community studies of fisheries in New England and the recent creation of a Social Science Advisory Committee by the Council, should lead to improvements in the nature and direction of future management decisions.77 The potential impacts on fishing dependent communities and the total capital upon which they depend would be identified and, hopefully, mitigated.

2.10. Developing an NRR Model for New England Return to Top

Development of fisheries management plans for New England is complicated by the diversity and complexity of the historical ecology and geography of the region. Because of this complexity, understanding the social and economic outcomes of any particular management measure is fraught with pitfalls. What may seem obvious as a likely outcome in one sub-region may not apply elsewhere. Relying primarily on stock assessments to select management options without consideration of the diversity of human communities and strategies across the region can result in deleterious oversimplifications.

Regional management needs to be refined with timely and in-depth understanding of the complexities of critical aspects of the human use equation. In each region, the unique dynamics of the fishing people and their communities stem from the history of their interactions with the environment and the opportunities afforded by the biophysical capital of the region. For example, in the Downeast Maine Sub-Region (Downeast), poor soils, community isolation, and underdeveloped transportation systems have resulted in few economic alternatives to fishing.

Many Downeast communities approach the ‘pure’ NRC type, with strong dependence on local natural resources, a high degree of environmental awareness among residents, and few inroads by forces of gentrification (economic externalities). At the opposite extreme, the DSP community of Stonington, Connecticut, historically a Portuguese fishing enclave with in-town residences dominated by fishing families, is highly gentrified. Most fishing families cannot now afford to live in the upscale water front neighborhoods, and live in lower cost areas away from the water.

Commercial fishing activities in Stonington constitute a small portion of the local economy. The fishing pier has no room for expansion, is surrounded by tourist facilities such as seafood restaurants and souvenir shops, and is just down river from a large marina for recreational boaters. While folks Downeast talk of fishing as a sustainable way of life, fishermen in Stonington talk about fishing as an economic survival act, their struggle to "keep their job," and the general lack of community ties among fishermen. Fishing, as everywhere, carries with it a great degree of uncertainty, but in Stonington this is magnified by the lack of expansion opportunities, numerous regulations and paperwork, the overall decline in fish stocks, days-at-sea restrictions, and market limitations.

One of the first respondents interviewed in Stonington (October 1998) operated one of two dockside fish wholesale operations. Six months later, he was out of business and his facility stood empty. This represented 50% of the total fish processing capacity in the port. Thus, the "Connecticut" sub-region (Stonington plus several smaller enclaves of finfish and lobster operations) is highly DSP oriented with fishing a tenuous but steady enterprise. In contrast, Downeast is much more NRC oriented and fishing intense. Overall, we divided New England up into eleven distinct subregions, centered on major ports or clusters of fishing or fishing-related industry. We then considered the social, cultural, human, and economic capital devoted to fishing enterprises in each of these subregions.

14Aihoshi and Rodman (1992); Auge (1995); Basso (1988); Hirsch and O’Hanlon (1991); Kahn (1990); Munn (1990); Myers (1991); Pandya (1990); Parmentier (1987); Stewart (1988); Wassman (1991); Weiner (1991); Feld and Basso (1996)
15Berdoulay (1989); Entrikin (1989); Nir (1991); Shields (1991); Tauan (1991); Yoon (1986)
16Giblin (1992)
17Torry (1978)
18Zaman (1991); Dirks (1980); Waddell (1976); Brookfield and Brown (1967); Spencer (1959)
19Poggie (1978); Dyer (1994)
20Ward and Weeks (1994)
21Bennet (1969)
22Ibid, p. 26
23Ibid, p. 27
24Pelto and Poggie (1974), p. 114
25Griffith and Dyer (1996)
26Berger (1985)
27Dyer and Leard (1994)
28Griffith and Dyer (1996)
29Sherman et al (1998); Sherman et al (1993); Sherman et al (1992); Sherman et al (1990)
31Dyer, Gill and Picou (1992)
32Dyer and McGoodwin (1994)
33Dyer, Picou and Gill (1992)
34McGoodwin (1990)
35Dyer and McGoodwin (1994)
36O’Leary (1966); Gallaher and Padfield (1980)
37Gallaher and Padfield (1980), p.20
38Firth (1946)
39Griffith and Dyer (1996)
40Colman (1990, 1988); Coase (1960)
41Colman (1990)
42Ibid, p. 305
43Berkes and Folke (1994)
44Doeringer, Moss and Terkla (1986)
45Doeringer, Moss and Terkla (1986)
46Dyer and Poggie (1998)
47Doeringer, Moss and Terkla (1986)
48 Jentoft (1995); Greider (1996)
49 Goulder and Kennedy (1997)
50 Vogt (1948)
51 Dyer (1993)
52 Dyer and McGoodwin (1994)
53 Kroll-Smith and Couch (1991)
54 Ibid, p.361
55 Dyer (in press)
56 Goulder and Kennedy (1997)
57 Catton and Dunlap (1980)
58 Hardin (1968)
59 Dyer (1993)
60 Margavio (1992)
61Caritas Christi Health Care System (1996)
62 Hillery (1982)
63 McGoodwin (1990)
64 Prybot (1999)
65 Griffith and Dyer (1996)
66 Communities dependent primarily on groundfish include Galilee (Rhode Island), Chatham, New Bedford and Gloucester (Massachusetts) and Portland (Maine)
67 NRC (1998:37)
68 Griffith and Dyer (1996)
69 Caritas Christi (1996)
71 Prybot (1998)
72 Federal Fisheries Investment Task Force (1999)
73 Griffith and Dyer (1996)
74 Angela San Filippo, personal communication.
75 See Pollnac and Poggie 1988; Gelles 1974; Strauss 1979
76 See discussion of National Standard 8 of the Sustainable Fisheries Act discussed in the introduction.
77 The Social Science Advisory Committee consists of 14 social scientists from the New England region familiar with current issues and problems facing regional management and fishery-dependent communities. Their mandate includes advising the NEFMC on policy, reviewing fishery management options and FMPs, and advising on ways to improve communication and collaboration among communities and managers.

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