Pulling together: How researchers involved all sides in the battle over fishing
Tensions between fishing communities and marine scientists over research into fisheries conservation have been overcome in a unique project sponsored by the ESRC in the islands of the Orkney archipelago.
The study was led by Professor Jonathan Side of the Heriot Watt Universitys Orkney- based International Centre for Island Technology, and focussed on an inshore creel fishery for lobsters and crabs. It brought unprecedented participation from all sides of the debate while investigating a notoriously contentious issue for those who fish for a living and those who manage stocks.
Professor Side said: "There are several examples of fisheries scientists working with fishermen, but these often amount to little more than taking part in sampling exercises. "We set out to investigate alternative forms of scientific enquiry which would involve all parties concerned. "Fishermen were asked to take the driving seat in identifying future research in their fishery."
Meetings organised by the research team successfully drew out questions, issues and problems for inclusion in a questionnaire. However, low attendance and dominance by strong individuals gave misleading impressions of priorities and attitudes, says the report. It was also noticeable that meetings on the outer parts of the Orkney archipelago were better attended than those on the main island.
Questionnaires were distributed to all 150 registered fishing vessel owners in the islands and, with careful canvassing and personal contact, more than 50 per cent of the 100 creel fishermen responded. They were asked about their research priorities, willingness to participate in research, and their attitudes to general science and - separately - to fisheries science. Of 52 questionnaires returned, 47 indicated that they wanted the identified research to go ahead and 41 said that they were willing to participate in it.
The study found that people who fished were generally more negative in their view about fisheries science than about science in general, and they were most sceptical about fish stock calculations and predictions. Attitudes to science and research were however much more positive than the views expressed by the few who attended the meetings – in questionnaire responses most were neutral or slightly negative.
Thirty possible research topics were identified and organised under four themes - lobsters, crabs, economic development and environment, and four groups scoring separate programmes of research priorities were identified.
Most agreement across all groups was for research related to lobster stock enhancement and associated compensation – including hatcheries and protection for females carrying eggs.
Separate questionnaires went to 18 non-fishing organisations with an interest in the uses of coastal waters including government, commerce and environmental NGOs, and 13 responded. Significantly, they expressed a strongly positive view of their belief and trust in science.
Innovative means to display results were researched including use of easily understood colour charts and posters with information presented at an exhibition, displays in local communities, at meetings and through newspapers and local radio.
Support for a future research programme and willingness to participate was evident among the fishing community. However, lack of representation and organisation to enable a united voice, limited free time to attend meetings, and a deep-seated scepticism of the scientific community prevented them taking a leadership role.
Professor Side said: "It is noticeable that the co-operative agreement reached during our study on research priorities stands in stark contrast to the recent history of conflicts among fishermen during attempts to impose changes.
"Despite fragmentation of the fishing community and its lack of organisational capacity, it is possible to achieve widespread participation."
Becky Gammon | EurekAlert!