Communication for enhanced resilience within intertidal ecologies and shellfishing communities in Frenchman Bay
The intertidal mudflat along Maine’s coast provides a range of ecosystem services that support coastal ecologies, economies, and communities. Shellfish, such as softshell clams Mya arenaria and blue mussels Mytilus edulis, provide food for marine organisms and generate income for approximately 1,700 licensed commercial harvesters in the State. Shellfish ecologies and economies face several immediate threats, including predation by invasive species, persistent fecal contamination, and ocean acidification. Shellfish management to protect public health and promote the sustainability of the resource and the livelihoods that depend upon it occurs within a governance arrangement that includes federal, state, and municipal actors. Effective governance requires diverse individuals to work together to monitor, prepare for, and respond when changes occur.
This case study describes how communication helped shellfish harvesters, regulators, researchers, and municipal planners improve their monitoring, develop and implement adaptive strategies, and accomplish specific objectives for the ecological and economic resilience of intertidal mudflats. We employed an ethnographic and community-based participatory research approach from 2011 through 2015 using participant observations at more than 60 events, focus groups, interviews (n=30), and document analysis. We conducted a thematic analysis of field notes, interview transcripts, and documents to describe how communication promoted the resilience of shellfishing communities within Frenchman Bay in Downeast Maine.
We identified (1) strategic, (2) relational, and (3) material communication factors that influenced our ability to build resilience. First, improving the communication network allowed collaborators to prioritize areas based on pollution source status, abundance, and availability of the resource. We implemented an advisory group that used face-to-face meeting strategies; promoted public participation at shellfish committee meetings; and developed a project website to share and archive information. These communication strategies improved the access, relevance, and timeliness of information exchanged and increased communication frequency among collaborators. Second, promoting diverse leadership, building trust, and creating shared articulation of a common goal enhanced interpersonal relationships and a sense of belonging within the group. Third, material communication refers to how the tides affected when members of the group could meet; how going out on the mudflat together promoted identification of the status of the resource and social identification across difference; and how material connections to place helped motivate and sustain participation in resilience-related efforts. These strategic, relational, and material communication factors are thus important to consider in collaborative efforts to promote shellfishing resilience.