Resilience is the ability of a system to spring back from impacts and to adapt dynamically to change without undermining its fundamental essence. Having a high degree of resilience enables resource users to cope with uncertainty and adapt to many different kinds of change (not just environmental). Resilience can have economic, social, technological, and political components.

Participants in the Resilient Fisheries RI project have identified several pathways to enhancing the resilience of our industry:

  • Flexibility and diversity: The ability to shift from fishery to fishery in response to changes in fish abundance, market prices, and regulatory change is an important coping mechanism traditionally utilized by fishermen, but it is becoming more difficult due to licensing practices.
  • Good relationship between policy makers, scientists, and fishermen: Trust, credibility, and effective communication networks between resource users and managers can help support timely response to change.
  • Innovative spirit and an ethic of open-mindedness: Long considered a hallmark of Rhode Island fisheries, a spirit of innovation drives outside the box thinking and willingness to take risks, which can help identify new ways to make the most of changing conditions.
  • Resilient markets: Having a diverse set of marketing options available within the industry can help buffer supply chains against unexpected changes.

The importance of fisheries management structures in building (or alternatively, undermining) resilience cannot be overstated. All fisheries take place within a regulatory context that is at least as important, if not much more so, than the environmental and economic contexts. Fishermen participating in the Resilient Fisheries RI project have identified the following aspects of the fisheries management structures as being particularly relevant to the resilience of the industry:

  • Lack of trust in science and management: some fishermen dispute the findings of stock assessments and the management actions predicated on them. There is also a feeling that management structures should take greater heed of fishermen’s observations and the data proceed through cooperative research and at-sea monitoring programs.
  • Regulatory discards: High rates of by catch on certain species can become a real conundrum under changing environmental conditions. For example, fishermen are currently catching vast numbers of black sea bass that they are not allowed to keep because regulations have not updated as fast as the ecosystem.
  • Need for more nimble science that responses to variability: Fishermen identify a frustrating time lag between when stock assessment data is collected and when it is processed into regulations. As ecosystems change, the science and management process needs to be more quicker and nimbler.
  • Need for ecosystem-based fishery management (EBFM): Some fishermen concur with many scientists in calling for a more holistic approach to managing fisheries, that replaces the species-by-species approach currently in use.
  • History-based state-by-state allocations: Quotas for many state-waters fisheries are subdivided by state, based on historical landings. In an era of changing environments, this allocation strategy is suboptimal and can cause great frustration for fishermen in states whose history-based allocation of a species is small relative to its current abundance.
  • Jurisdiction and representation: Several of Rhode Island’s biggest fisheries fall under the jurisdiction of the Mid-Atlantic Council. As species continue to move northwards, Rhode Island is becoming disenfranchised from the fisheries it participates in.