Making a Difference by Working Cooperatively: One Fisherman’s Perspective
It is important to note from the beginning that this opinion paper represents the ideas of one fisherman. I do not speak for fishermen as a whole, as each of us makes decisions for our own reasons. Fishermen are independent, resilient, and hardworking. To try to group them all into one category together is difficult and does not always provide an accurate representation. There is no textbook for the industry, but rather what works for each individual fisherman and his business. Most fishermen inherit their fishing skills or learn them on their own through trial and error. Fishing is my culture; I was born into a fishing family. As a child, I thought this was the way of life for everyone. However, I can tell you why I got involved in collaborative research and what motivates me to stay involved.
The first project I ever worked on was the original grid work for the whiting fishery in the Gulf of Maine from 1995 to 1999. There was no direct monetary compensation, but it was permitted as an experimental fishery so you could keep the catch. We were also required to take an observer on board. The project was started because all small mesh fishing was shut down in the Gulf of Maine and we needed to prove to the government that we could catch whiting without catching groundfish. At the time, I really was not aware that I was involved in a “cooperative research project” as I was just following the requirements to prosecute the fishery. I worked with Dan Schick from the Department of Marine Resources, and it was a very positive learning experience for me. I was introduced to the experimental fisheries permitting process, sea sampling techniques, and data gathering protocols. More importantly, it became the stepping stone that would expose me to the fisheries management council process.
There are many reasons why I have remained interested in cooperative research since my first exposure in the mid-1990s. For one, there are economic incentives to doing cooperative research. The opportunity to work on cooperative research has added some stability to my income stream during a difficult time for groundfish fishermen in New England. I am also excited about adding to my knowledge of fishing and what is really going on with the gear and how it works. As a third-generation fisherman, fishing is instinctive. Research was the first time I thought about why I did what I do. By participating in collaborative research, I have an opportunity to understand fishing better and gain a different perspective. To actually learn something—you can’t put a price on knowledge.
Many of the projects I have been involved in are testing new fishing gear or fish gear in new ways. What I am really doing is getting paid to play and test gear—what could be better? In the long run, doing research helps me become better and more efficient at catching fish. I see it as a win for me and a win for the researchers. I get to learn new gear designs and see how my gear actually works, and the researcher gains insight into how fishermen will, in reality, use a piece of new gear on the water. We both gain something by working together.