Ecology and the science of small-scale fisheries: A synthetic review of research effort for the Anthropocene

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© 2020 Elsevier Ltd Human-driven changes to aquatic environments threaten small-scale fisheries (SSFs). Ensuring a livable future for SSFs in the Anthropocene requires incorporating ecological knowledge of these diverse multi-species systems beyond the long-standing reliance on populations, a management paradigm adopted from industrial fisheries. Assessing the state of ecological knowledge on SSFs is timely as we enter the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science and Sustainable Development and with the upcoming International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture. Synthesizing research effort can help identify existing knowledge gaps and relatively well-researched ‘bright spots’ that can inform strategies to achieve global sustainability commitments. Yet trends in ecological research of SSFs are not well understood compared to better-studied industrial fisheries. To address this void, we conducted a synthetic review of SSF publications in ecology journals (n = 302), synthesizing trends in research subjects and methodologies over time. Wide geographic and habitat disparities in the coverage of publications are identified, with marine fisheries in Latin American receiving the greatest coverage while inland and Asian fisheries are understudied relative to the global distribution of SSFs. Bony fish and invertebrates received substantial coverage compared to endangered cartilaginous fishes. Studies have increasingly focused on human dimensions and ecosystem ecology compared to earlier emphasis on population ecology. Methodologically, studies rarely incorporate experiments despite their efficacy in testing interventions. To achieve a ‘wider view’ of fisheries that is reflective of the needs of SSFs in the Anthropocene, future ecological studies should expand their geographic, taxonomic, and methodological breadth to better assess understudied SSF interactions.






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Smith, H, A Garcia Lozano, D Baker, H Blondin, J Hamilton, J Choi, X Basurto, B Silliman, et al. (2021). Ecology and the science of small-scale fisheries: A synthetic review of research effort for the Anthropocene. Biological Conservation, 254. 10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108895 Retrieved from

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Hillary Smith

Research Assistant, Ph D Student

Dana Baker

Teaching Assistant

Research Interests

My research interests are in the fields of environment and development, with an area expertise in sub-Saharan Africa. I am interested in better understanding the relationships human society has with their environment, especially how conservation and development programs change and challenge one’s relationship with the natural world. I draw from diverse social science literatures and incorporate theories of power, government, resistance, and subject creation into my work. This allows me to think critically about the knowledge systems and models of governance that implicitly shape the practice of conservation.

My current research interests fall into 3 categories:

  1. Marine protected areas, conservation & social outcomes

  2. Human-environment relations

  3. Human wellbeing, poverty, & development

Methodological Approach

My methodological approach to research is rooted in a human-centered worldview, where research accounts are located in relation not only to the researcher, but also to the disciplines and methods used to produce them. This is characterized by working to understand the perspectives, as close as possible, of the research subject. In addition, I believe there is immense value in using collaborative, participatory approaches to generate knowledge and share information between stakeholders. This participatory approach is at the center of each of my projects. 


Jon Choi


I joined Duke in 2017 to pursue both a Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation through the Nicholas School and a J.D. at Duke Law School. Most broadly, I am interested in the intersection between ecological science and law. In my work with Pat Halpin in the Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab, I am interested in the intersection between marine spatial planning, ecosystem based management, areas beyond national jurisdiction, and both domestic and international environmental law. 

Before coming to Duke, I was the Environmental Health High Meadows Fellow at Environmental Defense Fund in DC. I graduated from Princeton University in 2015 with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. 


Xavier Basurto

Truman and Nellie Semans/Alex Brown & Sons Associate Professor

I am interested in the fundamental question of how groups (human and non-human) can find ways to self-organize, cooperate, and engage in successful collective action for the benefit of the common good. To do this I strive to understand how the institutions (formal and informal rules and norms) that govern social behavior, interplay with biophysical variables to shape social-ecological systems. What kind of institutions are better able to govern complex-adaptive systems? and how can societies (large and small) develop robust institutions that provide enough flexibility for collective learning and adaptation over the long-term?

My academic and professional training is based on a deep conviction that it is through integrating different disciplinary perspectives and methods that we will be able to find solutions to challenging dilemmas in natural resources management, conservation, and environmental policy. Trained as a marine biologist, I completed a M.S in natural resources studying small-scale fisheries in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Realizing the need to bring social science theories into my work on common-pool resources sustainability, I earned an MPA and a Ph.D. in Management (with a minor in cultural anthropology) from the University of Arizona and under the supervision of Edella Schlager. Following I spent two years working with Elinor Ostrom, 2009 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, at the Workshop for Political Theory and Policy Analysis of Indiana University. Methodologically, I am familiar with a variety of quantitative and qualitative approaches and formally trained to conduct Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA or more recently fsQCA), that allows among other things, systematic comparisons of middle range N sample sizes and address issues of multiple-causality.

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