Social benefits of restoring historical ecosystems and fisheries: alewives in Maine

Prof. Loren McClenachan, Caroline Keavney ’15, and Samantha Lovell ’16

ABSTRACT

Restoration of coastal ecosystems provides opportunities to simultaneously restore historical fisheries and ancillary ecosystem and social benefits that were historically derived from functioning ecosystems. In Maine, dam removal and other ecosystem restoration efforts have positively impacted anadromous fish, with local populations of alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus) rapidly recovering to near historical population abundances in some locations. This research investigates the social benefits conferred by the restoration of habitat connectivity, fish populations, and local small-scale fisheries. Using municipal fisheries data and interviews with stakeholders in coastal Maine, it describes a suite of both direct and indirect benefits: a reversal of the “shifting baselines syndrome” and a motivation to manage fisheries sustainably, diversification of local economies and fisheries, community building and an increased sense of local pride, a demographic broadening of the conservation community, and enhanced ecosystem services and recreational opportunities. As well, it identifies a positive feedback between economic benefits and other social benefits, with revenue earned from alewife fisheries enhancing community engagement and providing motivation for further restoration. Placing ecological restoration efforts into this larger social context—rather than simply evaluating them based on immediate economic benefits—provides a broader framework to assess overall societal benefits derived from restoration efforts.

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