Propagated Fish in Resource Management

Perceptions about Science and Scientism in Fisheries Management: An Angler’s View

Michael L. Smith


Abstract.—Resource managers frequently go wrong through uncritical adherence to and/or misapplication of scientific principles and methods to areas inappropriate to science (which is, of course, the working definition of scientism). Articulation of science into public resource policy does not require “more science”; to the contrary, it usually involves application of other principles and techniques that, inescapably, have a lot more “gray areas.” Fisheries management is at least as much about public policy as it is about science.

The issue of propagated fishes has long since ceased to be an issue for most of the anglers I know (not a small circle at all.) Overall, “speciation” (specialization) among angler groups since the post World War II era, and especially in the last 25 years, has rendered the issue relatively moot. Most anglers I know voice this view: “I would prefer to catch wild fish, but I would opt for any fish over no fish.” Fisheries and aquatic resource managers themselves have been rather slow (to inordinately slow) to recognize this simple fact.

To be sure, there is the northwest salmon issue and its attendant “basher” debate, but virtually all informed anglers I know see the whole “basher” thing as a tempest in a teapot. Ultimately, many anglers have come to regard the “basher” issue as an argument that has sought to exclude meaningful public input rather than engage it. A term such as “stakeholder” can take on ironic, even humorous, connotations when fisheries professionals try using it in earnest as an “outreach” term. At the semantic/cognitive levels, “stakeholder” is a term of categorization, and thus, de facto, a distancing device. The effective uses of propagated fishes in resource management need to be based on scientific reality, but these uses must also be based on the reality of meaningful input from the anglers who use these fisheries and who provide ongoing fiscal support for much of fisheries management in the United States.