Modeling Atlantic herring fisheries as multiscalar human-natural systems

Andrew K. Carlson, Daniel I. Rubenstein, Simon A. Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Fisheries contribute to food and nutrition security, livelihoods, and poverty alleviation for billions of people globally. However, human-environmental interactions in fisheries are rarely assessed locally, regionally, and globally at the same time, limiting social-ecological resilience in fisheries management. We evaluated worldwide catches of a keystone forage fish (Atlantic herring, Clupea harengus) over 65 years (1950–2014); modeled local, regional, and global interactions among industrial, artisanal, subsistence, and recreational fishing sectors; and predicted future catches using a multifaceted and multilayered human-nature coupling framework for assessing social-ecological interactions within and across adjacent and distant fisheries (termed “metacouplings”). Across 17 exclusive economic zones (EEZs), catches by nations in their own EEZs (7.1 × 107 metric tons [MT]) outweighed those in adjacent EEZs (5.3 × 107 MT). However, adjacent-EEZ fishing was the largest-tonnage fishing type in more EEZs (53 %), reflecting the proximity of Northern/Western European fishing nations and regulations conducive to fishing in neighboring waters. Catches in distant (non-adjacent) EEZs were relatively small (1.2 × 107 MT). Fishing-sector interactions were generally positive but notably negative for artisanal fishing, which declined with increasing industrial and recreational catches in five EEZs (29 %). Combined with projected declines in artisanal and subsistence catches in parts of Germany, Norway, and Sweden, metacoupling interactions could elicit harmful financial, food-supply, and food/nutrition security outcomes for small-scale fishers if metacouplings remain absent from management programs. However, quantitative and conceptual tools developed herein enable fisheries managers to identify where, when, and how to maximize positive and minimize negative metacoupling interactions and thereby ensure continued ecological, economic, nutritional, and sociocultural benefits for fisheries stakeholders, locally to globally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105855
JournalFisheries Research
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science


  • Atlantic herring
  • Coupled human and natural systems
  • Fisheries management
  • Metacoupling framework
  • Social-ecological systems


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