Date of Award

Fall 2011

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Andrew Rosenberg


This thesis seeks to understand how stakeholders' perspectives and understanding of social impacts influence decision processes. Understanding stakeholders' comprehension of social impacts provides insight as to how they weigh these impacts against others when making decisions. Moreover, the way stakeholders influence, or are influenced by, management decisions provides information on the use and development of methodologies successful in assessing social impacts and communicating the results. Built on this information, the main objective is to explore and develop a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) approach that could capture and integrate multiple stakeholders' perspectives in predicting impacts from ongoing, renewable resource management actions. The research is framed around grounded theory and causal analysis. It applies qualitative and participatory methods to analyze a case study of the overfishing and collapse of the New England groundfish fisheries in the 1990s.

To enact a fisheries management plan amendment, Environmental Impact Statements (EIS, which include an SIA) must be submitted. Agencies use SIA guidelines to carry out such assessments but relatively few scientific investigations have looked at the relevance and accuracy of social variables utilized, their relationships to predictions made, and how they are used in policymaking. Lack of evaluation of SIA is thus a major limitation to the advancement of the discipline. Therefore, an exploratory conceptual approach to SIA is developed in this thesis, which includes two components: a detailed list of social impact and social process variables for fisheries management and a model diagram that visually represents causal relationships. The conceptual approach is used to document and analyze the aforementioned case study.

The New England groundfish collapse case study exposed the difficulties of balancing management actions intended to achieve biological sustainability with social, economic and cultural forces. Technological advances, favorable economic conditions, the increase in seafood demand, and government encouragement and assistance, encouraged fishermen expand their capacity to fish until industry's infrastructure became overcapitalized and the stocks overfished. Emergency actions were thus enacted in 1994. Two amendments, 5 & 7, to the Northeast Multispecies Fisheries Management Plan were passed in hopes of ameliorating the situation, leaving little time to predict or understand the magnitude of their impacts. This study aims to shed light on the different social impacts experienced as a result of these actions.