Climate change is a pressing contemporary issue confronting small-scale fisheries, particularly in the developing world. Importantly, climate change is expected to exacerbate the impact of existing climate and non-climate stressors, such as coastal erosion, flooding, overfishing, poor governance, diseases, poverty and lack of alternative livelihood. Nevertheless, a better understanding of the interconnections among climate change and other stressors is yet to be developed. Moreover, how small-scale coastal fisheries mobilise adaptive capacity in response to these multiple stressors has received relatively limited attention in the global environmental change literature. This thesis addresses these knowledge gaps by drawing on three cases of small-scale coastal fisheries in the western region of Ghana. It employs a qualitative case study approach, based on multiple sources of evidence including documents, interviews and observation, and is guided by the vulnerability and capitals frameworks to explore local perceptions of the causes and effects of combined multiple stressors, current and preferred responses to key stressors, and informal and formal processes of mobilising adaptive capacity to those stressors. The cases analysed are affected by eight key stressors, including coastal erosion, more frequent and intense storms and waves, decreasing catches, high cost of premix fuel, sand mining, competition with oil and gas industry, increasing occurrence of algal blooms and harsh implementation of fisheries regulations. They provide critical insights into how these stressors combine in multiple and complex ways to jointly affect the sector, e.g., coastal livelihoods, degradation of coastal environment and infrastructure and threats to human life. The case studies also reveal that, in response to those stressors and their effects, fishers and local and regional organisations have adopted coping strategies, i.e., reactive and incremental responses rather than proactive and planned adaptation. Such coping strategies have proven inadequate to significantly reduce the effects of stressors, underscoring how limited knowledge of global change and its effects can constrain appropriate responses (i.e., adaptation). Findings further reveal how inherent community abilities, particularly innovations and technology (cultural capital), communal labour, collective actions, networks (social capital) and community voice (political capital) are mobilised in response to stressors. These capitals comprise the main adaptive capacity in the context of non-responsive government and other formal organisations. Importantly, this study reveals that mobilising adaptive capacity involves complex interactions among these capitals. In addition to its contributions to the field of global environmental change, this thesis also offers recommendations for helping small-scale fisheries to build adaptive capacity by developing their inherent capitals.
Submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of the Sunshine Coast, 2016.