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Adapting to change in inland fisheries: analysis from Lake Tanganyika, East Africa

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Fisheries around the world are declining due to growing anthropogenic pressures including climate change and overexploitation. Understanding how small-scale fishers respond to this unprecedented challenge is critical for developing more effective management strategies in vulnerable socio-ecological systems. While considerable research is focused on adaptation to change in marine contexts, greater attention is urgently needed on regionally important but often neglected inland fisheries. This study analyzes the adaptation intentions of littoral fishers on Lake Tanganyika, a biodiversity hotspot and one of the largest inland fisheries in Africa. Data were collected through in-person surveys of 154 littoral fishers across 11 major landing sites in Tanzania. Based on the Theory of Planned Behavior, we identified and tested 15 individual and site-level factors as potential indicators of adaptation intentions to a hypothetical 50% decline in catch. Our results show that fishers with other (non-fishing) primary livelihoods are more likely to adapt in ways that decrease fishing pressure, increase income, and are supported by family and friends. Homeowners were also more likely to adapt in ways that lessen fishing pressure. Our findings highlight the importance of fostering regional adaptation strategies that increase primary livelihood alternatives and capital outside the fishery, while discouraging investment in adaptations focused on increasing catch amount or fishing income.

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We are grateful to Glenn Israel, Kai Lorenzen, Anna Peterson, James Colee, and the Human Dimensions of Wildlife lab at UF for providing valuable guidance and feedback, and to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on this paper. We also thank CLEAT and TAFIRI-Kigoma for collaborating on this study, and in particular Joan Brehm, Huruma Mgana, Emmanual Sweke, Ishmael Kimirei, Julieth Mosille, Julius Assam, Tumaini Kamulali, Masanja Bahati, George Kazumbe, Peter Limbu, Craig Lesher, and Colin Apse.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under grant no. DGE-1842473; the University of Florida Program for Studies in Tropical Conservation; the University of Florida Tropical Conservation and Development Program; the University of Florida Center for African Studies; and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs/DANIDA.

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Correspondence to Benjamin S. Lowe.

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This study meets the ethical standards of the University of Florida’s Institutional Review Board, including procedures for the informed consent of human participants. It was conducted with approval from the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) under research permit no. 2017-101-HL-2017-85.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Editor: Debbie Ley

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Lowe, B.S., Jacobson, S.K., Anold, H. et al. Adapting to change in inland fisheries: analysis from Lake Tanganyika, East Africa. Reg Environ Change 19, 1765–1776 (2019).

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