Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environment and Society

Committee Chair(s)

Jordan W. Smith


Jordan W. Smith


Brett Roper


Christopher Lant


Christopher Monz


Jennifer Givens


Fisheries throughout the world play many important roles, and they are also subject to many pressures. The tension between roles and pressures is increasing, and as a result, many fisheries are being utilized to, or over their capacity, which ultimately threatens their sustainability. To address these challenges, this dissertation provides insights and tools to help us better understand fisheries and the challenges they face. The first study explores the impacts of an earlier spring runoff in Montana. Earlier runoff has resulted in lower and warmer summer flows, which is stressing coldwater species like trout. This stress is affecting fishing quality, and the state of Montana, along with outfitters and guides, are altering fishing practices to reduce resource impacts. As runoff trends continue, August, the once-coveted month offering high quality angling opportunities, will be fraught with unfavorable conditions and fishing restrictions. The second study presents an innovative method for developing social-ecological models. I show how this approach can illustrate the breadth and interconnectedness of a social-ecological system and explore the components and interactions affecting a system’s sustainability. Using a collaboratively developed model of the Kenai fishery, I identified how the nature of salmon (migratory) and their habitat (large and unpredictable) leads to uncertainty about effective management strategies. This uncertainty, in addition to a large and diverse set of people using the fishery, creates conflicting management visions, which ultimately paralyze the governance system. The third study evaluates how fire and post-fire flooding can affect a fishery. Through stakeholder interviews and a literature review, I identified fish populations that are the most vulnerable to long-term fire-related impacts. Vulnerable populations are isolated, lack quality habitat alternatives, and have low abundance. Applying this to the Kenai, I concluded that early-run Chinook salmon are the most vulnerable to fire, and if impacted, early-run Chinook have the greatest potential to severely impact the broader fishery through a chain of negative interactions. Collectively, this dissertation provides insights and tools to help us better understand fisheries and the challenges they face.