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Fisheries

Seafood Magic: Including Fishermen in Fishery Management Policy

Paper: Figus E, Criddle KR (2019) Characterizing preferences of fishermen to inform decisionmaking: A case study of the Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) fishery off Alaska. PLoS ONE 14(3): e0212537. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0212537

A buttery lobster, a crisp oyster, and a decadent fish filet: seafood can indeed be a magical experience. But these dishes don’t just appear in restaurants, markets, or our bellies by magic. There are hard-working, dedicated fishermen* behind the must-have foodie experiences of delectable seafood.

Fishermen are an important part of the seafood process. Source: Wikimedia, brewbooks.

In the face of climate change, over fishing, and marine pollution, various players in the seafood industry are pushing for sustainability initiatives which take pressure off the environment and ensure that seafood availability will last for years to come. Part of this push involves creating local, state, and federal policy which impose restrictions and regulations on fishing, such as a fishing quota. While policy makers, businesses, and consumers alike have all been involved in ideating fishery management techniques, one indispensable stakeholder seems to need more attention in policy creation – those very fishermen who source the seafood we get to devour.

Scientific analysis of fishery stock is extremely important to management policy; however, fishermen may be able to provide local and community-based knowledge that other experts are simply unable to provide. Unfortunately, scientists are now claiming that it is uncommon for fisheries managers to critically analyze and study fishermen’s thoughts and opinions in order to actually involve them in the conservation or management decision-making process.

Fileting Pacific halibut. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Jlikes2Fish.

Figus & Criddle (2019) examine the implications of qualitative analyses on fishermen’s opinions about management policies or policy creation. They specifically interviewed 76 Pacific halibut commercial fishermen from four communities in Southeast Alaska: Juneau, Petersburg, Sitka, and Hoonah. In general, the International Pacific Halibut Commission manages the halibut fishery by dividing halibut-inhabited waters into ten regulatory areas, and Southeast Alaska resides in Area 2C. These fisheries are further regulated by a system of Individual Fishing Quotas, where fishermen are only allowed a select amount of halibut catch, in addition to mandatory dockside monitoring of these catches. The halibut fishery in Alaska was once further regulated through an observer program, which placed a fisheries manager aboard a halibut fishing vessel to monitor its actions, but the program proved too costly and impractical. Figus & Criddle (2019) maintain that by listening to fishermen and analyzing their preference before management policy creation, fisheries managers can get integral insight into what these stakeholders liked and disliked about policy.

The research team categorizes management techniques into four types: human observers, electronic monitoring (such as camera recordings), detailed logbooks (where the fisherman records everything and submits to a management agency), or status quo (where everything stays the same as it was since 2013 regulations). Results indicated that a majority of interviewed fishermen showed no support for hosting human observers aboard their fishing vessels, while most showed some support for the other alternatives. Most popular, according to Figus & Criddle (2019), were the status quo and logbook regulation mechanisms. The research team concludes that the findings are not surprising, as the fishermen, while complex and nuanced in their reasoning, can naturally be expected to support those policy measures which are the least disruptive and least costly.

Interestingly enough, Figus & Criddle (2019) found a small percentage of interviewed fishermen who did show some support for human observers, and each had varied reasons as to why. Larger vessel size seemed to uniformly correlate with increased support for fisheries management agents boarding vessels during fishing trips.

Overall, Figus & Criddle (2019) found that fishermen did perceive the status quo category as the most logistically practical and least disruptive, which demonstrates that some of the most important things for fisherman, and for policy to encompass, is management logistics, cost, intrusiveness, and ease.

A word cloud representing concerns of fishermen. Size based on how frequently word was mentioned. Source: Figus & Criddle (2019).

Fishermen are important stakeholders, without whom the seafood industry we’ve come to love wouldn’t exist. Figus & Criddle (2019) show that there is a way to analyze fishermen opinion on fishery policy so as to better include them in policy creation and increase the chances of policy compliance: qualitative methods like interviewing them uncover their complex thoughts on different management mechanisms. Not to mention, different local and state governments have had exorbitant success collaborating with fishermen in management policy creation. Take Massachusetts’ lobster fishing industry, for example. Not only does the government impose certain regulations (such as a catch size and no-catch rules on gravid lobsters), but these local fishermen are an active part of management as well. As early as the 1980’s, fishermen in the Northeast developed complex social rules surrounding lobster fishing which helped regulate the population on a community level (Acheson, 1988). This collaboration has ensured that lobster, especially in Massachusetts, is an incredibly sustainable, lasting industry.

So next time you’re staring at a piping-hot plate of steamers or cracking open a cooked-crustacean, think about the fishermen that made these delicious meals possible, and how we can better include them in our work to conserve marine life.

*According to Figus & Criddle (2019), many women referred to themselves as fishermen during their interviews; “fishermen” was used to refer to both fishermen and women in Alaska. There is still debate on how to properly refer to those who commercially (or recreationally) fish in a gender-neutral way, but as of now “fishermen” or “fisherwomen” have been used.

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