University of Gothenburg
Bench with text: Fishers only.
Photo: Milena Arias Schreiber

Coastal fisheries in Sweden: from a changing sea to a robust science-policy environment (SEA2POL+)

The Graduate School in Transdisciplinary Ocean Sciences is led by a team of researchers from four different faculties at the University of Gothenburg and one researcher at the University of Södertörn. The project connects the disciplines of physical geography, marine ecology, environmental social sciences, business administration and theory of science.

Aim and goals

The aim of the project is to harness knowledge to determine the cumulative effects of socio-environmental factors hampering the sustainability of coastal fisheries in Sweden. The project will apply inter and transdisciplinary approaches to identify whether and how coastal fisheries can develop into a viable and environmentally responsible industry, and investigate mechanisms by which research findings are summarised for fisheries policy purposes.

A transformation towards sustainable coastal fisheries is the focus of this project, in particular for uplifting rural coastal economies, meeting an increasing demand for locally produced seafood without jeopardizing the health of the planet, and understanding the science-policy nexus for natural resources management.

The goals of this project are

  • To assess past and present spatial-temporal variability and climate change scenarios for commercially important Swedish coastal fish stocks.
  • To co-produce with stakeholders, synergetic visions and pathways for the viability of the coastal fishing industry under the implementation of the Blue Growth strategy in Sweden.
  • To assess methods used to synthesise fisheries and marine environmental research for policy decision-making.

PhD projects

1. Climate and environmental change impacts on Swedish coastal fisheries

Elena Tamarit CastroDepartment of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences.

Supervisors: Physical geography and Marine Ecology.

Globally, fish populations have declined over the last several decades because of increased fishing pressure, alterations of habitats and climate change. Increasing sea-surface temperatures, as well as changing hydroclimate patterns, can cause shifts in species composition and distribution, which may be positive for some species, but negative to others. Overfishing can in worst cases lead to extinction of species, but also increased sensitivity to climate and environmental change.

To disentangle the relative importance of various factors determining fish population dynamics and sustainability of coastal fisheries, long-term data of fish abundance, fishing efforts and tools, relevant climate parameters and seascape configurations are needed. This facilitates modelling of potential fish stock changes under different pathways of climate change in the near future.

The aim of Elena Tamarit Castro's work is to compile relevant fisheries-, climate- and geographical data to assess the drivers of long-term population dynamics of commercially important fish along the Swedish west coast. Using fish time series covering most of last century as well as detailed information of fishing efforts, drivers of long- and short-term population changes will be investigated. Given the potential, but understudied, impact of extreme events (such as heatwaves and drought/floods) on fish, this will be specifically examined.

The gained information will subsequently be used to make risk assessments of selected coastal fish populations for the near future under different Representative Concentration Pathways, using climate model simulations.


2. Coastal fisheries and the Blue Growth agenda: the case of coastal and maritime tourism

Julie BennettSchool of Global Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences.

Supervisors: Environmental Social Sciences and Business Administration.

The Blue Growth strategy is widely adopted in the European Union (EU) and offers a great potential for employment and economic growth through ocean innovation, investment and research. Marine and coastal areas, however, are highly contested spaces, ridden by users’ conflicts and territorial disputes.

Despite their potential contribution to sustainable local food production, tourism development, employment, lively and rich in culture rural spaces, coastal fisheries are not included among the target sectors of Blue Growth while coastal and maritime tourism is regarded as essential for fostering a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe. In this context, an important question for this PhD candidate is whether Blue Growth can reduce inequalities in the distribution and use of ocean resources or whether it will exacerbate the marginalization of coastal fishers.

Julie Bennett will address questions such as:

  • What are the impacts of blue growth on coastal fisheries and tourism?
  • How can coastal fishers face policies that favour more profitable large-scale marine industries
  • How can these larger industries accommodate their business models to avoid off-setting the sustainability of coastal fisheries?

Julie Bennett will initially carry out a literature review on records of so-called win-win situations for coastal fisheries and more large-scale business enterprises. That literature will be compared with the context of coastal fisheries and coastal and maritime tourism in Sweden, combined with in-depth research on factors influencing mobility among coastal fishers. Surveys, semi-structured interviews and focus groups with fishers, tourism companies and local municipalities in selected coastal areas will be used to gather empirical material.

As part of this research, the doctoral student will organize multi-stakeholder interactive workshops in order to discuss research findings and start a dialogue to explore the potentials for both the local coastal fishing and tourism industries to be viable, resilient and environmental responsible.

3. Coastal fisheries and research informed policy-making

Maria Paulsson, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science

Supervisors: Theory of Science and Environmental Social Sciences.

Cumulativity, in the sense that the design of new studies is based on a robust understanding of what has previously been achieved, is a pressing need in every academic discipline and specialty. Hence researchers constantly need to take stock of theoretical, methodological and empirical developments in their fields. Brief summaries of specific bodies of literature routinely appear as sections of standard journal articles, while longer reviews are collected in international handbooks and appear in Annual Reviews of various disciplines. From the 1970s on, this non-formalised way of synthesising research has been dismissed as unreliable and unscientific by proponents of meta-analysis and systematic reviews, which are leading formats in the area known as research synthesis.

The need for syntheses of primary research is equally urgent at the science-policy interface, where the same tension between formalised and traditional reviewing practices makes itself felt. On the one hand, government agencies and international organisations alike request science advice by commissioning recognised experts to review research relevant to policy-making and to professional practice. On the other hand, international organisations and national agencies have been set up to enable evidence-based policy and practice by evaluating current research by means of research synthesis methods. In healthcare, Cochrane is the leading international organisation of this kind.

Centres for evidence-based conservation serve a similar purpose with respect to applied ecological research, and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) uses the availability of meta-analyses and systematic reviews as a criterion for determining the reliability of its findings.

The aim of this PhD project is to evaluate the manner in which the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM) commissions and produces reviews of fisheries research and research on the marine environment.

Three steps are needed to achieve this aim. First, the practices involved will be carefully documented, including their development over time. Second, these reviewing practices will be compared to those adopted by government agencies with mandates similar to that of SwAM in a handful of other countries, as well as assessment practices employed by international organisations such as IPBES, the International Council of the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). Third, the set of routines for synthesising fisheries research and research on the marine environment thus documented will be related to the debate over the merits of research synthesis methods vs reviewing practices based on professional competence of a non-formalised kind.

Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary

The PhD candidates and supervisors will collaborate in the writing of interdisciplinary academic publications. At the end of the project the research team will organize an interdisciplinary workshop to gather external researchers and experts on coastal research in Sweden. The workshop will evaluate and complement the synthesis of cumulative effects identified and produced as a result of the fusion of each PhD research project’s empirical data.

Research Team

Maris Gillette

Professor at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg

Lena Eriksson

Associate professor at the Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg

Martin Gullström

Associate professor at the School of Natural Sciences, Technology and Environmental Studies, Södertörn University

Eva Maria Jernsand

Researcher at the Department of Business Administration, University of Gothenburg

Hans Linderholm

Professor at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg

Christopher Kullenberg

Associate professor, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg