Fisheries as Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Abigail J. Lynch and Jianguo Liu
Consider the old saying “two heads are better than one.” If those two heads come from two different disciplines, one specializing in human systems and the other specializing in natural systems, they will approach an issue differently, adding depth and breadth to collaborative research and management. However, this collaborative approach is not universally embraced; humans and natural systems are often researched and managed separately.
Fisheries, by definition, couple humans and natural systems. Fisheries are organized efforts that use aquatic resources for human consumption, recreation, and trade. Such human activities influence the natural environment from which these aquatic resources are derived (e.g., bottom trawling impacts benthic habitats, harvesting changes food webs). Changes in the natural environment, in turn, affect humans. Many fish populations have collapsed due to overexploitation and habitat degradation; consequently, many fishermen and related industries have suffered economic, social, and cultural losses. But, fisheries research has often studied the natural systems separately from the human systems.
Although disciplinary fisheries studies have provided many useful insights, for example, into fish biology, ecology, nutrition, and toxicology, we contest that (1) fisheries are complex coupled human and natural systems (CHANS); (2) the CHANS approach is useful for fisheries because it explicitly integrates the human and natural systems into a research framework; and (3) fisheries professionals should consider fisheries as CHANS to effectively study and manage fish and human behavior in a holistic manner. To address these issues, we start with a brief introduction to the CHANS approach, discuss the complexity of fisheries as CHANS using the Lake Whitefish Coregonus clupeaformis fishery in the Laurentian Great Lakes as an example, and conclude with how the CHANS approach can support fisheries sustainability and emerging fisheries professionals.