Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Louisiana
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Humphries A, Josephs L, La Peyre M, Hall S, Dowty Beech, R. 2019. Vulnerability of resource users in Louisiana's oyster fishery to environmental change. Ecology and Society


Knowledge of vulnerability provides the foundation for developing actions that minimize impacts on people while maximizing the sustainability of ecosystem goods and services. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important to determine how resource-dependent people are vulnerable to environmental change. This is particularly true in coastal Louisiana where the current era of rapid land loss has the potential to undermine oyster-associated livelihoods. Yet, little is known about how such changes might differentially impact resource-users. We examined social components of vulnerability to environmental change using indicators of sensitivity and adaptive capacity within the oyster fishery of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. Specifically, we used semi-structured interviews to compare three resource-user roles: oyster fishers, oyster fishers/lease owners, and oyster lease owners only. Results indicated that oyster fishers/lease owners were highly dependent and thus sensitive to changes in the environmental conditions of the fishery due to high levels of occupational identity. The same people, however, were the most adaptable to change, which was reflected in their willingness to learn about new practices and evolve over time. In other words, higher sensitivity was offset by an increased ability to adapt, cope, and respond to changes in the environment. In contrast to these findings, oyster fishers that did not own any portion of a lease or business in which they operated were bad at coping with change and frequently held negative or fatalistic views on financial planning. These attributes made them the most vulnerable to environmental change. Overall, the most vulnerable participants in the Terrebonne Parish oyster fishery were those with low to moderate levels of personal and financial buffers and trust, coupled with high occupational identity and a low motivation to change. Policy actions that target these attributes are likely to be the