Academic journal article Human Organization

What You See Is Not Always What You Get: Aspect Dominance as a Confounding Factor in the Determination of Fishing Dependent Communities

Academic journal article Human Organization

What You See Is Not Always What You Get: Aspect Dominance as a Confounding Factor in the Determination of Fishing Dependent Communities

Article excerpt

Many residents of coastal towns believe that they live in communities that are economically dependent upon commercial fishing. However, employment data indicate that fishing is a relatively minor economic component of many of these communities. We apply the concept of aspect dominance from the field of ecology to help explain this discrepancy. In addition we explore other forms of ecological dominance in regard to perceptions of fishing dependence. A key idea is that residents and sometimes researchers confuse forms of ecological dominance with economic dependence. Our study relied upon secondary and key informant data for six Florida coastal communities. In addition, we conducted a random telephone sample with 1,200 residents of these villages to establish their perceptions of the importance of commercial fishing to their communities.

Key words: Fishing Dependency, Community, Human Ecology


The primary purpose of this paper is to introduce a metaphor from biological science that incorporates both the material and nonmaterial forms of community culture and the processes of locality-based human interactions within a human-ecological theoretical framework. This extension of human ecology is based on the concept of aspect dominance used primarily in forest ecology and will be developed and detailed in the following pages. In order to explore the utility of the forest ecology concept of aspect dominance within the human ecology framework, we first provide a brief overview of the biological use of the concept and of the general human ecology framework. Next we describe our empirical application of the concept where we examine the explanatory utility of aspect dominance. The paper concludes with a brief summary and an assessment of the external validity of this concept. The rationale for specifying this theoretical approach has its basis in a very real and controversial natural resource issue.

It is well known that fisheries management strategies have social and economic impacts (Jacob et al. 2001). Under the Magnuson Act, the Regional Fisheries Management Councils were required to address such impacts by producing social impact statements for all fishery management plans. Under the new Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act National Standard 8, federal policy now mandates that fishery management plans identify and consider the social and economic consequences of fisheries management actions on fishing-dependent communities, to assure their sustained participation and minimize adverse impacts (MSFCMA Section 301[a][8]). This mandate is based on the recognition that conservation and management efforts have potentially expansive social and economic impacts in fishing communities (Jacob et al. 2001).

The consideration of the human dimensions of fisheries regulations is an unusually progressive governmental stance, one that nearly every social scientist would applaud. However, there are at least two fundamental problems in considering the social and economic consequences of fishery management actions on fishing-dependent communities. First off, how is a community defined and then identified? Though there is relative agreement among community scholars on definition, there are alternative definitions of community advocated by sizeable minorities. The second problem involves defining and identifying fishing-dependence. Here the considerations are primarily economic and sociological (Jacob et al. 2001). What is the threshold of involvement in fishing where a community's existence is threatened by the restriction of access to the fishery?

It is easy to see how individuals in communities who are directly dependent on fishing for an occupation would be negatively impacted by any particular restrictive fishery regulation. However, establishing a definitional threshold where there is a "community-wide" impact is much more difficult. This is further confounded by the fact that you could rationally and accurately define that threshold, and yet remain unable to identify fishing-dependent places due to a lack of reliable data (Jacob and Jepson 2000). …

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