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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Using Vulnerability Indicators to Aid in the Assessment of Vulnerability and Resiliency in Alaskan Communities

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Oct-Nov-Dec 2012
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The purpose of our project is to develop a framework for assessing the vulnerability and resiliency of Alaskan fishing communities to a wide variety of risk factors such as the implementation of catch shares programs, stock collapse, natural or man-made disasters, or other factors affecting Alaskan communities. Creating vulnerability indicators for fishing communities provides a pragmatic approach toward standardization of data and analysis for assessment of some of the long-term effects of management actions. Historically, the ability to conduct such analysis has been due to the lack of quantitative social data. The use of indicators to monitor sustainability and other measures of well-being within marine fisheries has been promoted within international fisheries management and there have been some cases of its use within U.S. fisheries, mainly in the Southeast. These social indices are intended to improve the analytical rigor of fisheries Social Impact Assessments, through analysis of adherence to National Standard 8 of the Manguson-Stevens Reauthorization Act and Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice in components of Environmental Impact Statements . Given the short time frame in which such analyses are often conducted, an advantage to this approach is that the majority of the data used to construct these indices are readily accessible secondary data and can be compiled quickly to create measures of social vulnerability and to update community profiles.

We have adopted a methodology and data management protocols consistent with other regions of the country to create a standardized nationwide suite of vulnerability indicators to provide for a comparison of community resilience and vulnerability between Alaska and other regions. This will also facilitate more objective inter- and intra-regional analysis of social impacts of fisheries management decisions. However, unlike many other regions, communities in the North Pacific region are not well represented in many census surveys (i.e., they are not big enough to be adequately captured by the American Community Survey), which has required us to develop novel approaches for our region. The vulnerability indicators we have developed to date are population composition, labor force structure, poverty, housing characteristics, fishing labor force, commercial fishing reliance, commercial fishing engagement, recreational fishing engagement, recreational fishing reliance, commercial fisheries diversification, occupational diversification, subsistence fishing reliance, and subsistence marine mammal hunting reliance. These indicators have been computed for approximately 300 communities in Alaska using average values from 2000 to 2010.

We are now in the process of conducting three additional aspects of this project. First, we will incorporate community stakeholder feedback through a groundtruthing exercise to assess the appropriateness and adequacy of the current set of vulnerability indicators for communities in Alaska and test the validity of the results through in-community education and outreach. Modifications to the current methodology and vulnerability indicators will be made based on community feedback. Second, we will create a time series dataset that will allow us to assess community vulnerability each year and track changes over time. Third, we will explore how these vulnerability indicators, which incorporate important economic and social variables over time, can be used to assess a community’s vulnerability or resilience to a wide variety of risk factors, such as the implementation of catch shares programs, stock collapse, natural or man-made disaster, or other factors affecting the community. Given the variety of types of risks a community faces, it is important to understand how the different types of risk will likely impact the resilience and vulnerability of a community.  Similarly, across communities, it is important to understand which indicators best predict resilience or vulnerability of a community to each type of risk, and how these vulnerability indicators can be used to predict the changes in resilience and vulnerability of a community before and after the community experienced a significant risk event. We will apply the proposed vulnerability and resilience indicators to a selection of case studies known to have had significant impacts on Alaskan communities.  The hypothesis is that some indicators will be good for analyzing certain types of risks (e.g., biophysical risks compared to fisheries management driven risks), but all indicators will not be useful for analyzing community vulnerability to all risks.  In addition, this component of the project will use historical data to test the reliability of our indicators and better forecast which communities will be vulnerable to certain types of events in the future. 

By Amber Himes-Cornell and Stephen Kasperski

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