Resilient or vulnerable? : a study of the livelihoods of inshore fishers and aquaculturists in Penang, Malaysia
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The marine and coastal ecosystem of Penang experiences problems with water pollution and overexploitation of fish stock is not a new phenomenon. The degradation of the marine and coastal ecosystem, coupled with natural hazards such as the 2004 tsunami, have affected the livelihoods of the inshore fishers and aquaculturists who depend on marine and coastal resources for a living. This study addresses the vulnerability and the coping strategies of the inshore fishers and aquaculturists (shrimp, fish and cockle aquaculturists) in Penang by applying the sustainable livelihood framework and resilience theory. In order to gain an in-depth understanding their livelihoods, a qualitative research method was applied. Interviews with the inshore fishers and aquaculturists were conducted to explore their perceptions of their access to various capitals, distribution of assets, and challenges in fisheries. It was found that both fishers and cockle aquaculturists are more vulnerable than shrimp and fish aquaculturists, who have higher levels of livelihood capitals, which made them more resilient in recovery from shortfalls. This study also reveals the political and economic factors that have worsened the livelihoods of the inshore fishers and aquaculturists in Penang, while weakening their chances of coping with various stressors. Stressors from anthropogenic impacts coupled with corruption and policies that favor economic development over the marine and coastal environment have increased vulnerability amongst the inshore fishers and aquaculturists in Penang.