Analyzing key economic, social and governance patterns for the management of complex socioecological systems in data-poor situations

  1. Pablo Pita Orduna
Dirixida por:
  1. Manel Antelo Director
  2. Carlos Sebastian Villasante Larramendi Director

Universidade de defensa: Universidade de Vigo

Ano de defensa: 2020

  1. Fernando González Laxe Presidente/a
  2. Gema Casal Pascual Secretario/a
  3. Mafalda Rangel Vogal

Tipo: Tese


Information on where and how humans use coastal environments is essential in the planning and management of marine resources. However, knowledge about the interactions between socioeconomic, governance, and ecological patterns of marine socioecological systems is largely unknown. This thesis focuses in the analyses of synergies and trade-offs between services of marine ecosystems and socioeconomic development, studying the local and global implications of how human and biophysical processes interact with the structure and function of coastal ecosystems, and how they affect the availability of food, income, employment, health and equity in coastal communities. In the different publications that make up this thesis, quantitative models and participatory approaches have been used to integrate ecological and socioeconomic dimensions to understand present and future patterns of marine socioecological systems. In this thesis it has been demonstrated that under data-poor management scenarios a combination of different sources of data can be used to document and analyze key changes in small-scale fisheries (SSF), specifically in marine recreational fisheries (MRF) and S-fisheries (small-scale, spatially-structured, targeting sedentary stocks) to inform management and policy. MRF and the shellfish fishery of Galicia (NW Spain) have been selected as cases of study because they are highly relevant fisheries in Europe that are managed in a data-poor environment with urgent needs of updated information by regional policy makers and managers to ensure socioecological sustainability. Special attention has been paid to interrelation between socioeconomic changes and resource exploitation issues. Despite its socioeconomic relevance, the shellfish fishery of Galicia is a paradigmatic example of European S-fishery that is managed in a data-poor environment, with urgent needs of updated social, economic, and ecological information. Long-term changes in the shell fisheries of Galicia were analyzed to help regional policy makers and fisheries managers to improve management. Results were published in the international journal Marine Policy (see Annex I). In this paper (Annex I) there were reconstructed total removals of shellfish species from Galicia for 1950-2017. Data on commercial fishing fleets were obtained from the Pesca de Galicia website (, namely, length, power and capacity, main fishing grounds where the Galician fleet is operating (in national waters and international fishing grounds) and fishing gear used (i.e., shellfishing licenses) for all vessels in different homeports for the period 2004-2016. Data on daily shellfish sales (kilograms, value in € and mean value in €·kg-1) by species for the first-sale markets were also collected from Pesca de Galicia for the period 2003-2015. Data on employment of on-foot shellfishers by cofradía de pescadores (fishers' organizations) were obtained for the period 1998-2017. Thereafter, recent temporary trends in fishing vessel length, capacity and power, the number of commercial shellfishing licenses, employment, catches, and sales value were analyzed by using generalized linear models (GLM). Different covariates, error structures and link functions were assessed in the models, which were selected based on Akaike’s information criterion. Catches and sales value were analyzed by means of hierarchical clusters to identify differences between first-sale markets. The similarity percentage, based on a decomposition of Bray-Curtis dissimilarities were used to identify the landed species that contribute most to differences. It was shown that the shellfishing capacity of Galicia, a major fishing power in Europe, has been severely reduced in recent decades (Annex I). The number of vessels has fallen by 13%, vessel length, capacity and engine power have decreased by 10%, 7% and 3%, respectively, while the number of on-foot shellfishers has halved. Landings and sale value of shellfish species have declined in the last decade by 16% and by 13%, respectively. This decline follows a period of recovery from the mid-1980s when coastal fishery management were transferred from the Spanish to the regional government. Production of local clam species has been progressively abandoned in favor of the foreign Japanese carpet shell Ruditapes philippinarum, leading to losses in sales value and increasing market risks. Overfishing, poaching, degradation of habitats, pollution, disease outbreaks and ocean warming may be responsible for the drop in landings and sales value of key species like edible cockle Cerastoderma edule and Atlantic goose barnacle Pollicipes pollicipes. Despite the development of new fisheries, e.g., algae, anemone and harvesting of worms for recreational anglers, the overall declining trend has important socioecological implications for Galician society, because of the traditional link between shell fishing and coastal communities. The socioecological sustainability of this sector requires policies to be developed by the regional government regarding the support of multidisciplinary research, increase control over pollution and poaching, a greater focus on the production of native species, and the strengthening of co-management frameworks. In relation to MRF, in this thesis it was demonstrated that the use of fishers’ ecological knowledge (FEK) is a good approach to develop knowledge of complex socioecological systems in data-poor situations to inform management. Although FEK had previously proved to be useful as an alternative reference of biological changes in data-poor scenarios, there is a reluctance to incorporate it into the evidence base used to underpin marine management decisions. Moreover, recreational fisher knowledge has rarely been included in scientific studies despite being a major source of FEK. Results on this theme were published in the international journal Frontiers in Marine Science (see Annex II). Very active fishers with a high degree of involvement in the recreational fishery were recruited using a snowball model, starting with a small group of informants that were initially identified by representatives of the main regional recreational fishers’ associations, and expanding through their contacts and social networks (Annex II). This was designed to recruit avid recreational fishers with a high degree of knowledge of the fishery and ecosystem. This is because they were expected to be most aware of long-term changes, as their catches are dependent on the health of the system and fishing has been a central part of their lifestyle for many years. Face-to-face semi-structured video-recorded interviews were conducted. Semi-structured interviews were used to ensure that participants provided information on key topics, while open-ended questions and probes allowed fishers to expand on the most important items for them. Anglers and spear fishers were asked to provide their perceptions of the conservation status of fish stocks and the impacts on marine ecosystems. Specifically, fishers reported their perceptions of: (1) any changes over time in the abundances and sizes of their main target species; and (2) key changes in the marine ecosystems. The audio of the interviews was transcribed into text and analyzed by using text mining tools. The relationships among the key concepts identified were used to quantify fishers’ perceptions of changes in the conservation status of their target fish stocks and to quantify the main impacts on marine ecosystems. GLM were used to assess overall temporal trends in the conservation status of each of the fish stocks by including the fishing experience of recreational fishers as independent variables. Overfishing and habitat loss, followed by reduction in biodiversity, pollution, and warming temperatures were considered to be the main drivers of the poor status of cephalopods and finfish stocks (Annex II). Perceived temporal declines in fish stocks were consistent with available biological data, highlighting the potential for recreational FEK to be used to assess long-term ecological changes. It was important to seek opinions from different users, including fishers from traditional commercial and recreational fisheries, as these groups showed good knowledge of the impacts on natural and cultural community heritage. The poor status of ballan wrasse Labrus bergylta and kelp beds was highlighted, which was of concern due to their role as key species and habitats in coastal ecosystems. Despite the relevance of the use of recreational FEK to assess the conservation status of marine ecosystems, broader monitoring programs are needed to protect the future of these ecosystems. Moreover, this thesis has investigated the state of play of MRF in Spain and in Galicia. It was reviewed the evolution of the management frameworks of MRF in Galicia and Spain, and it has been discussed its eventual future development to ensure ecological, social, and economic sustainability. The results for Spain were published in the international journal Frontiers in Marine Science (see Annex III), while the specific situation in Galicia was published in the international journal Ocean and Coastal Management (see Annex IV). In order to analyze the state of play about research on MRF in Galicia (Annex IV), the database ISI Web of Knowledge (available at was searched for scientific publications by using in the title or in the theme of the publication the search string “((“NW Spain” OR Galicia) AND (marine AND recreat* AND fish*))”. In addition, experts were identified through a snowball sampling procedure to identify additional sources of information to be included in the analysis. Thus, scientific papers undetected by the ISI Web of Knowledge search engine, research projects, contributions to scientific meetings, master's and doctoral academic thesis, books and book chapters, and gray literature (technical and dissemination reports) were also identified and analyzed. Thereafter, a database was created with the information gathered from the publications and projects on MRF, including details of the publication (title, name and discipline of authors, year of publication and type of publication) and of the project (title, executing and financing institution and funded amount). In addition, the context of the studies were identified (years in which they were developed, geographical location and methodology), their main orientation (governance, social, ecological, economic, or legal), the main results obtained, and the species studied. This paper also analyzed, for the first time, key changes in the management framework of marine recreational fisheries in Galicia by investigating past and current regulations and research initiatives developed so far (Annex IV). Different legal engines were used to analyze legal framework about MRF. Thus, the Spanish Official Bulletin (available at and the Galician Official Journal (available at were used to collect legal regulations on MRF, respectively, by using the search string “pesca recreativa” (recreational fishing) OR “pesca deportiva” (sport fishing) OR “pesca de recreo” (recreational fishing). European regulations on MRF were obtained from the Official Journal of the EU (available at by using the search string "recreational fishing" OR "sport fishing". In the paper it was highlighted that in addition to a powerful commercial fleet and high fisheries dependence of coastal communities, Galicia has a long and strong tradition in marine recreational fisheries, with 60 000 fishers and 4 000 boats engaged in this activity in coastal waters (Annex IV). In the paper it was shown that over the past decades, the nature of the management of marine fisheries in Galicia has changed substantially. Three periods in the management of marine recreational fisheries (1963–1982; 1983–2000; and 2001-present) were identified. The results showed that the management of MRF moved from a poorly regulated and de facto open access system under the rule of the Spanish administration in the 1980's, to a current highly regulated fishery under regional, national and European Union (EU) governments. EU regulations are being fundamental to promote the ecological and socioeconomic sustainability of MRF. However, the lack of scientific data, with only eight papers about MRF in Galicia published in international referred journals, the absence of experts in the field working in the fisheries administration and in research centers, and the lack of strong fishers' organizations are jeopardizing the sustainability of this complex socioecological system in the long term. The development of a strategic plan for MRF in Galicia is needed, including a diagnosis of its current status in relation to other sectors sharing coastal ecosystems, like commercial fisheries, and tourism. Co-management initiatives and adaptive policies favoring both the development of commercial fisheries and the promotion of MRF-based economies to offer new opportunities to local communities are encouraged. In the case of Spain (Annex III), it was conducted a similar search to the case of Galicia to identify research gaps: the database ISI Web of Knowledge was used to select scientific publications related to MRF in Spain by using in the title or in the theme of the publication the following search string: “[“Spain” AND (marine AND recreat∗ AND fish∗)].” The search included all scientific articles published in English until the cut-off date of the end of 2018. In addition, expert knowledge of scientists, managers, leaders of recreational fishers’ associations and of other stakeholder’s organizations related with the use of coastal seas, identified through a snowball sampling procedure was included. A database was created with the information gathered from the publications and projects on MRF, including details of the publication and the project. Moreover, challenges in relation to the governance of MRF in Spain and other European regions were identified using information derived from the discussions and presentations in the first International Symposium on MRF (ISMAREF 2018). Detailed minutes of these sessions were obtained, and their content in relation to challenges for the governance of MRF was synthesized around the same key topics used to analyze the current status of knowledge of MRF: ecology, economics and sociology. The information was subsequently analyzed to provide a basic roadmap to guide the future governance policies to promote environmental, economic and social sustainability of MRF. In this paper about MRF in Spain (Annex III), it was shown that the EU is concerned about the lack of information on the relevance of nine million Europeans engaged in MRF, committing Member States to encourage environmental and socioeconomic sustainability of the sector. The paper also provided recommendations to guide research actions and management policies in Spain, a key country because its complex administrative regimen and the intensive use of its coasts, including 900 000 recreational fishers. Also, the paper showed that in the last two decades research on MRF was remarkable (139 publications). However, public investment in research (€2.44 million in the same period) should be improved to cover knowledge gaps on socioeconomic relevance, on impacts on vulnerable species and on implications of global warming. The license system should be standardized to allow estimation of effort, catch and expenditure. Social networks, mobile applications, FEK, and citizen science programs could help to develop cost-effective research and management. Science-based, adaptive policies should improve the allocation of resources between MRF and other stakeholders, introducing co-management to reduce conflicts. In this thesis it was also performed a comparative economic analysis of two Atlantic recreational charter fisheries to assess the possibility of favoring recreational-based local initiatives, and to improve the well-being of coastal communities. Although the European Parliament of the EU has recently encouraged further development of recreational charter fishing initiatives to improve local economic development, particularly in rural areas and in outer regions of the EU, to date, recreational charter fishing has been little studied in the European Atlantic and the factors that trigger its potential development remained unknown. It was therefore necessary to understand the mechanisms that incentive the creation of recreational charter fishing opportunities and their survival over time. To illustrate, there were selected two case of study located in the Eastern North Atlantic, namely Galicia and Madeira Islands (Portugal). The two cases differ greatly in the socioecological attributes in which recreational charter fishing is developed (e.g., relevance of commercial fishing and tourism, and targeted species), thus these attributes have been included in the analyses. Companies dedicated to recreational charter fishing were identified through a snowball sampling in Galicia and Madeira, and information on the costs and benefits of the activity were collected by a questionnaire answered by company managers. Results were presented in the European Association of Fisheries Economists Conference 2019 (see Annex V). To increase participation of the company owners and clients an incentive program was put into force by providing feed-back on the economic performance of the charter companies to the owners (Annex VI), and offering merchandising of the project to clients. Recreational charter fisheries are thriving business widely distributed in warm coastal waters worldwide, although there are some relevant examples in temperate waters, e.g., in Australia and North America. In Europe, recreational charter fishing is a relatively important activity in the Spanish Mediterranean, the south of the continental Portuguese coastline and in the Atlantic archipelagos of Canaries, Madeira and Azores. However, in the Spanish Atlantic there are few companies dedicated to recreational charter fishing. In this thesis it was shown that the economic balance is better for companies in Madeira, but the companies' economic investments are much lower in Galicia, reducing business risks for the latter (Annex VI). Therefore, although enabling conditions to establish recreational charter fisheries are more favorable in the case of Madeira, with milder weather and calmer oceanic conditions, greater tourist access and higher presence of attractive “big game fish”, there is room for the growth of this economic activity in Galicia, and other European Atlantic regions. As a corollary, in this thesis it has been demonstrated that to effectively manage complex socioecological systems, it is necessary to abandon the current mainstream trend towards academic, institutional, and social parceling. This intellectual “smallholding” was already denounced by José Ortega y Gasset in an essay entitled La barbarie del "especialismo", published in 1929. In his essay, he explained that “most scientists push the overall progress of science locked in their laboratory cell, like the bee in their honeycomb”. The current scientist, according to Ortega y Gasset, “is an ignorant wise, something extremely serious, because it means that he is a man who will behave in all matters that he ignores, not as an ignorant, but with all the petulance of someone who in his special question is a wise (...) without admitting -and this is paradoxical- specialists of those things.” That is why Ortega y Gasset exposed that despite the fact that the specialism “has made the progress of experimental science possible for a century, is approaching a stage where it will not be able to advance on its own unless a better generation is tasked with building a new, more powerful oven.” Therefore, science “requires from time to time, as an organic regulation of its own increase, a work of reconstitution, and, as I have said, this requires an effort of unification, increasingly difficult, which increasingly accomplishes larger regions of total knowledge.” In addition to academic institutions, the fragmentation derived from specialism also has a very negative effect on public administrations in charge of common marine resources. It is necessary to coordinate the different public agencies, which include research centers, managers and enforcement and control officers, avoiding unnecessary duplication and gaps in knowledge and action. The current trend towards excessive individualism in today's societies is also reflected in the loss of the culture of associationism. Although there are still many cofradías de pescadores in Spain, especially in the case of Galicia, the loss of socioeconomic weight of the fishing sector is a threat to future sustainability. This trend is very evident in the case of MRF, which lacks powerful and cohesive associations in most of Spain. The lack of strong fishing associations, and administrative and management fragmentation jeopardize in practice the development of co-management models that could alleviate the public contribution to fisheries management.