CHANS-Net Blog: Reconsidering resilience

Abigail Lynch's picture

Blogger: Abigail Lynch, a fisheries and wildlife PhD student at Michigan State University and member of the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. Lynch attended the ESA annual meeting as a CHANS Fellow. Her research focuses on developing a decision-support tool to regulate harvest management strategies for lake whitefish in a changing climate.

Resilient fisheries, resilient ecosystems, resilient communities. The term “resilience” has such a positive connotation that I find that it is often sprinkled among research interests, objectives and outcomes like cayenne pepper in a spicy chili recipe. A pinch of resilience here, a dash of sustainability there. Until recently, I took that as the recipe for a well-managed fishery. Until recently, I took the definition of resilience for granted.

ESA annual meeting logoI was fortunate to attend the 2013 annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America on a coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) fellowship. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Oregon State professor and former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, spoke at the CHANS-Net symposium: "Ecological Sustainability in a Telecoupled World" on the topic of resilience -- but not in the context with which I was familiar. She postulated that resilience isn’t always such a good thing. Consider, for example, overfishing. An open access fishery in an overfishing state is a resilient system. The incentive structure for the fishery is for immediate economic gain -- not for long-term stability of fish populations or sustainable harvest. If you don’t catch that fish today, someone else will. Dr. Lubchenco suggested that we must change the incentive structure, using tools like individual transferable quotas, to imbalance this resilient overfishing situation.

I had never considered resilience in this way before, but it makes a lot of sense. Why do we have difficulties rehabilitating some fisheries? Perhaps it is because we don’t consider all of the factors maintaining the fishery in a negative resilient state. Ecological, economic and social factors all influence fisheries. To shift the system, we need to consider how each affects the resilience of the system.