- Communities living close to hard-bottomed shallow shore are more likely to catch animals for seafood consumption in the rough season when other types of fishing often aren’t possible, a new study has found.
- The study also found that shallow habitat mattered: the larger its extent, the more households glean.
- The results further suggest that worsening sea conditions due to climate change will increase the importance of coastal gleaning.
- The authors say that understanding the interactions between people and coastal ecosystems through fishing activities, such as gleaning, is essential for ensuring coastal management that supports social objectives.
Communities living close to hard-bottomed shallow shores are more likely to hand-catch marine animals during seasons when other types of fishing often aren’t possible, a new study shows. The findings suggest that worsening sea conditions due to climate change will increase the importance of this type of harvest, known as coastal gleaning.
Fishing communities that collect edible marine organisms in shallow areas at low tide are dependent on the interaction between season and shallow habitat as wave attenuation and water clarity are key for gleaning, says the paper published Jan. 27 in the journal People and Nature.
The researchers found that more fishing households practiced gleaning in the rough season than in the calm season. They said gleaners during the rough season had more stable seafood consumption between seasons than those who did not glean.
“The inspiration for the study came during conversations with people about the types of fishing that they do at different times of the year, and I realized that their responses were very different in different communities,” lead author Ruby Grantham, a Ph.D. candidate from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at Australia’s James Cook University, said in an email to Mongabay.
“As far as I know there have not been other studies that combine spatial and social data to understand how habitat influences seasonal gleaning, which makes it a really exciting piece of research,” she said.
The researchers from universities in Australia and Chile surveyed 128 households from eight coastal communities on Atauro Island in the small Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste. They then combined the information with data on the type and size of shallow coastal habitat close to each community.
The study also found that shallow habitat mattered: the larger its extent, the more households glean. In the rough season, habitat type also played an important role. Communities close to shallow habitats that are mostly hard, such as coral reefs, will be more likely to glean during rough weather than those living near sandy shallow habitats.
Gleaning is important among coastal communities as it’s often part of diversified fishing strategies, complementing other fishing methods, predominantly as a source of subsistence. It is a subsector of small-scale fishery that is low-technology, multi-species, and typically female-dominated.
Atauro Island — just a few miles from the Alor Archipelago of neighboring Indonesia — is home to more than 9,200 people, or 0.8% of Timor-Leste’s total population, and the livelihoods on the island are more fishery dependent than in other parts of the nation. The coral reefs of Timor-Leste are part of the Pacific Coral Triangle, which hosts the world’s richest variety of marine life.
The paper also noted the significant social impacts of climate change on small-scale fisheries like gleaning, particularly in the context of food insecurity and poverty among coastal communities in the Global South.
“Our findings suggest that local habitat differences would also affect climate change adaptation,” Grantham said. “How people respond and adapt to climate change is very complex, with many factors influencing people’s choices.”
Grantham said the study’s findings indicate that if sea conditions get rougher, the importance of gleaning might increase in some communities while households in other communities might not be able to glean, which could lead to reduced seafood consumption and associated food insecurity.
“So, the context specific differences in seasonal gleaning found in our research highlight the importance of understanding how weather and local environments create both opportunities and limitations in coastal livelihoods,” she said.
“For Timor-Leste and the Pacific, the ways that climate change will impact sea conditions are not yet fully understood, which is a major limitation to the ability to support adaptive strategies to build resilient coastal livelihoods,” she added.
The authors say that understanding the interactions between people and coastal ecosystems through fishing activities, such as gleaning, is essential for ensuring that coastal management supports social objectives, including maintaining or ideally improving the well-being of local communities.
“Our research reveals how these interactions vary at fine resolutions in space and time – with people interacting with coastal systems differently between places and seasons,” Grantham said.
She called for more research into these types of interactions on Atauro Island and in other places where people glean, including the ecological assessments of this fishery.
“There is a need to ensure that sustainable management accounts for gleaning because by overlooking it policy and management risks excluding people from the important and meaningful ways that they connect with and relate to the local coastal environments,” she said.
Grantham, R., Álvarez-Romero, J. G., Mills, D. J., Rojas, C., & Cumming, G. S. (2021). Spatiotemporal determinants of seasonal gleaning. People and Nature, 3(1), 1-15. doi:10.1002/pan3.10179
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