Shellfisheries and Cultural Ecosystem Services: Understanding the Benefits Enabled through Work in Farmed and Wild Shellfisheries

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As commercial shellfish aquaculture continues to expand in the United States (US), industry supporters promote the ability of bivalve shellfish to provide ecosystem services, suggesting aquaculture’s potential to ecologically and economically supplement wild shellfisheries (Beck et al., 2011; van der Schatte Olivier et al., 2018). Within this discussion of bivalve-related benefits, sociocultural benefits are largely absent (Alleway et al., 2018). This oversight hinders industry growth as it: 1) ignores evidence suggesting sociocultural benefits are more salient to individuals than other types of ecological benefits (Daniel et al., 2012) and 2) does not acknowledge the high level of job satisfaction associated with fisheries-based livelihoods precisely because of their many linked sociocultural benefits (Pollnac & Poggie, 2006; Smith & Clay, 2010). It is reasonable to assume that shellfish aquaculture might provide similar benefits, but this has not been considered in aquaculture’s promotion and development.

To address this lapse, this dissertation detailed sociocultural benefits related to aquaculture and wild shellfisheries using an ethnographic approach framed by ecosystem services. Three complementary studies blending semi-structured interviews, photovoice interviews, participant observation, and Q methodology were conducted, targeting US shellfisheries at three scales: 1) within the state of Maryland, 2) within seven total states in the Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, and New England regions and 3) throughout the US. Results illustrated that cultural ecosystem services are important to individuals working with shellfish and were used to create the first comprehensive list detailing the benefits enabled through work with shellfish. Project participants perceived the value of these benefits differently, and views were most strongly linked to participant role in the industry rather than other attributes. Results showed that, for the most part, shellfish aquaculture was able to provide similar benefits to a wild shellfishery. Findings from this study are relevant to both shellfisheries promotion and management as results highlight not only the range of benefits enabled through shellfisheries, but also the diversity of views and values held by industry members. Additionally, this project provided an excellent case study with which to investigate the complexity of linked and changing ecosystem services.