A SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL APPROACH TO RESTORING RIVER CONNECTIVITY AND REWILDING SALMON AS A KEYSTONE SPECIES IN THE KUSHIRO RIVER WATERSHED, EASTERN HOKKAIDO, JAPAN

 

By employing social-ecological systems analysis, this research evaluates the feasibility of restoring river connectivity and a lost keystone species salmon in the Kushiro river watershed. While previous studies have identified different scales that define time and space in human society and the natural world, they have yet to suggest ways to reconcile the human-environmental disjuncture stemming from the different scales. Our task is then twofold. First, we elucidate social-ecological complexity and connectivity by studying salmon ecology and human activities as an integrated system. Second, we comprehend how and why the temporal and spatial nexus of salmon ecology creates disharmony with that of human activity. In so doing, we seek to integrate the temporal and spatial scales of ecological systems to environmental policymaking by involving various stakeholders in designs and evaluations of the Kushiro river watershed management.

This research, situated at the intersection of commons studies and environmental policy, seeks to make one theoretical contribution in these fields. Theorizing Mobility of Common-Pool Resources: Commons studies thematize the problem of scarcity by examining how multiple actors, in their competition over a limited resource pool, can be brought together into an institutional arrangement that can ensure sustainability. Commons studies in Japan have focused on commons resources that are relatively static and easily enclosed—forests, irrigated waters, grasslands. Our research, which focuses on fisheries, stresses mobility across different spaces and difficulty of limiting access. Mobility beyond the watershed is crucial for the health of the resource, as fish need to spend a crucial part of their biological development in the ocean. This research adds the new dimension of high mobility—as well as multiplicity of actors and spaces in the management of river resources–to common-pool resources theory (high rivalry and low excludability) with the intention to contribute to policy of sustainable watershed governance.  

This research will employ adaptive management principles to evaluates the goal of restoring river connectivityand rewilding salmonas a keystone species in the Kushiro River system. We see our project as the conceptualizing and designing phase in the development of an adaptive managementprogram: a program of repeated assessment and policy-decisions as an on-going experiment to respond to uncertainties (Holling 1978). Adaptive management also requires the participation of stakeholders at every point in the project, from its outset to its conclusion. A part of this process may require conflict resolution in the form of negotiating compromises between competing interests in the watershed ecosystem. Through the evaluation of these uncertainties and conflicts of interests, we hope to arrive at a general consensus among stakeholdersconcerning assessment method, project scope, objectives, and goal.

We examine both the social and ecological dimensions of the following

three uncertainties that stakeholders face: 

 

  1) Salmon Ecology: Decrease in salmon catch (local fishery) and the genetic dilution of salmonids

      (Salmon-Trout Propagation Society, salmon-focused conservation groups) 

  2) Biodiversity & Habitat Loss: The ecological health of the Kushiro Wetland, including loss of biodiversity

      and its shrinking due to land use (agriculture, forestry) outside the protected zone (conservation groups,

      Ministry of the Environment)

  3) Fishery in Kushiro Bay: Damages to the fisheries in Kushiro Bay caused by river pollution, including toxic 

      effluence due to river connectivity restoration (Kushiro Fishery Cooperative Association)

 

This project is a collaboration between Dr. Takeshi Ito and Dr. Takehiro Watanabe from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Sophia University.

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