Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Andrew M Scheld

Committee Member

Barbara J Garrity-Blake

Committee Member

Robert L Hicks

Committee Member

Robert J Latour

Committee Member

Wolfgang K Vogelbein


Small-scale fisheries represent a diverse and dynamic portion of the global commercial fishing population and serve as a source of food security, income, and livelihood for many individuals and contribute to the development of local community and regional identities. Virginia’s small-scale commercial fisheries offer similar benefits, accounting for a significant portion of the state’s total annual landings and employing thousands of individuals. Despite the value of these fisheries, the number of commercial licenses has declined over the past few decades. Declines are attributed to various factors but indicate potential shifts in participation and resource dependence that may be consequential. Similar to other occupations dependent on natural resources, small-scale fishermen are vulnerable to shocks but can employ diversification strategies within and outside of the fishing sector to increase resilience. This dissertation serves to contribute to a knowledge gap on the extent of diversification and changes in participation and diversification patterns over time in Virginia’s small-scale commercial fisheries. In Chapters I and II, state licensing and permitting data, as well as commercial landings data, are used to investigate participation and diversification in wild fisheries and marine-related businesses through structural change, multiple correspondence analyses, and the development of diversification models. In Chapter III, a survey instrument is used to determine the willingness of fishermen to diversify into an emerging species fishery. Chapter IV uses ethnographic interviews to further investigate the role of diversification as a livelihood strategy. The findings of this dissertation indicate that diversification within and outside of Virginia’s small-scale commercial fishing industry can serve as an important adaptive strategy. Fishermen who were more diversified had higher and less variable annual incomes than fishermen who were less diversified. Likewise, more diversified individuals tended to remain in the commercial fishing industry for longer. There is evidence of instability in participation and diversification in some wild fisheries and marine-related businesses, however, that reflects the volatility of the commercial fishing industry. Further investigation of the individual diversification behavior indicates a suite of influential factors such as participation in a limited entry fishery or marine-related business, annual income, and socio-demographic variables. These drivers of diversification behavior are useful to managers in predicting responses to adverse events or estimating participation in the future. The findings from Chapter III indicate that ex-vessel price plays an important role in the decision to diversify into an emerging fishery. This dissertation indicates that fishermen are heterogenous in their response to economic, environmental, and social changes and these differences can ultimately influence levels of participation and diversification. Understanding individual decision-making behavior and livelihood strategies of small-scale commercial fishermen is integral in addressing the socio-economic impacts of environmental and management changes. Furthermore, it is important for fishery managers to understand how management and policy decisions influence livelihood strategies, resource dependence, and vulnerability as these constraints threaten the long-term sustainability and resiliency of commercial fishermen, the commercial fishing industry, and coastal communities dependent on commercial fishing.




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