Partnerships for a Common Purpose: Cooperative Fisheries Research and Management

Scope of Cooperative Fisheries Research in the United States

Laura Taylor Singer

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569858.ch1

The 21st century has brought with it new and revitalized efforts to conduct fisheries research that involves scientists and fishermen as research partners. Cooperative research has become a common practice throughout the United States, and many areas of the country are looking for ways to increase the use of this approach. This practice puts scientists on board fishing vessels to gain from the knowledge of fishermen and to utilize fishing boats as research platforms. The combination of the scientific community’s method and credibility with the fishing community’s knowledge of the marine ecosystem and marine operations has dramatically increased the quality and quantity of information available to support marine resource management decisions.

Cooperative research is not a new concept in the United States and has been used widely in other countries as well. An early example comes from the Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami where, beginning in 1954, recreational and commercial fishermen were used to tag sailfish Istiophorus platypterus, blue marlin Makaira nigricans, white marlin Tetrapturus albidus, swordfish Xiphias gladius, bluefin tuna Thunnus thynnus, and yellowtail tuna T. albacares. Alaska fishing vessels have been used as partners on research projects since the 1950s and later used in surveys and gear research. In recent years, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has expanded the number of projects where commercial and recreational vessels have been used as platforms. In New England and the West Coast, there are now formal cooperative research initiatives underway to promote the involvement of scientists and fishermen in both developing and implementing research projects. The National Research Council (NRC) completed a review of cooperative research efforts in 2004 to document the success of these projects and explore effective design and implementation strategies. The NRC noted that there are few studies of cooperative research published in the peer-reviewed literature and a precise definition does not exist. The NRC used the following working definition of “cooperative and collaborative research” (2004:8).

The nature and level of cooperation can vary greatly among projects. At one end of the spectrum are projects with relatively low levels of cooperation, such as NMFS chartering commercial vessels for surveys (in which the primary form of cooperation is commercial crews helping in the actual daily operations of the surveys) or fishermen keeping logs of fishing activities. On the other end of the scale are cooperative research projects where fishermen and agency personnel work together in all phases of the project, including development of the research question design of the project, performance of research, analysis and interpretation of results, and communication and dissemination of study findings. These types of projects are often referred to as “collaborative research.”

Given the years of experience and the more recent expansion of cooperative research programs, the question remains, what is cooperative or collaborative research and what is not.