Making a Difference by Working Cooperatively: Social, Cultural, and Economic Impacts
Pat D. White
I was 16 when I bought my first lobster boat, built some traps, and started fishing off Marblehead, Massachusetts. That was in 1956. Since then, I have been involved in a few other occupations, but lobstering is my calling, as a harvester as well as an advocate for the industry.
I am currently the CEO of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, a commissioner on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a member of the editorial board of the National Fishermen, and an advisory committee member to the Northeast Consortium.
In recent years, I have had the unique privilege of serving as a commissioner on the Pew Oceans Commission (POC). Along with other members of the POC, I traveled to many regions of the United States and met with hundreds of people who were tied to fishing in one capacity or another. I heard their stories of working and living in and around the ocean and their concerns with the current state of the fisheries. I also listened to their vision of the future. Because the POC and the National Commission on Ocean Policy have now completed the tasks required of them, the chairs of the two commissions have formed the Joint Commission Task Force of which I am currently a member.
When I was asked to consider the question, “What difference has cooperative research and cooperative management made for fishing and coastal communities?” I immediately thought of one of my first experiences in fisheries research.
Some time around 1985, I met Dr. Bob Steneck, a biologist at the University of Maine. He was unique in a number of ways. I would take him and some of his graduate students out to dive sites in my boat, and they would count lobsters. He helped me understand why he was doing what he was doing and what it meant in the grand scheme of things. He also spent a lot of time learning what lobstermen did and why. We talked and shared knowledge: a biologist and a fisherman.
Today, as I work with fisheries managers, I try to stress the importance of anecdotal experiences. Fishing is a science, and the knowledge fishermen gain from their daily experiences added to the information they have from prior generations is every bit as important and valuable as knowledge gained from other sources. Our science is a very practical science, based on years of experience. We generate an inherent understanding of how things work by daily observation of the ocean and its resources.
As fishermen become involved in management, they gain a better understanding and tolerance of that process. It works in two ways—as managers work with engaged fishermen, they gain a better understanding and tolerance of the fishing profession. Overall, all sides are trying to understand each other.