Partnerships for a Common Purpose: Cooperative Fisheries Research and Management

Lessons Learned: Making Cooperative Research and Cooperative Management Work

Ray Hilborn

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569858.ch19

My participation in this symposium was invited, I suspect, because I was the chairman of a U.S. National Research Council (NRC) panel on “cooperative research in the National Marine Fisheries Service” that resulted in an NRC report of the same name. Much of the comments I make below are a result of the testimony presented to this panel and discussions with a broadly experience group of panel members, who included Joe DeAlteris, Rick Deriso, Ellen Pikitch, Mark Lundsten, Kees Zwanenburg, Gary Graham, Suzanne Iudicello-Martley, Gil Silvia, Priscilla Weeks, and John Williamson. Terry Schaefer was the NRC staff member who organized the panel. In the discussion below, I will provide some of the recommendations that emerged from the panel report, but otherwise, the comments reflect my own personal opinions and not those of the panel.

My own personal experience in cooperative research has been in a range of fisheries, primarily in New Zealand, western Canada, and Alaskan salmon, so most of this has not been in programs explicitly working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and in my comments here, I wish to concentrate on the more general questions of making cooperative research work, rather than the specifics of cooperative research with NMFS.

The NRC panel concluded that cooperative research is the natural way to conduct a wide range of fisheries research activities and should be the “default option” when new data collection programs are considered. This is certainly not the current culture in most national and state fisheries agencies. Many years ago, I attended a workshop where the keynote speaker was a commercial trawl fisherman from Oregon who began his talk by saying “my job [the commercial fishermen] is to catch as many fish as possible, your job [scientists and managers] is to keep me from catching too many.” This quote is a reflection of the prevailing culture of the time; agencies collect data and manage, while fishermen catch fish.

The fishing industry possesses a wide range of knowledge about the dynamics of fish populations— they are on the water far more than any government agency could possibly be—and they possess many of the skills necessary for data collection and research. Furthermore, the industry itself has the infrastructure to sample the fishery, and in many cases the fish populations, far more intensively and reliably than government agencies. To exclude this knowledge and infrastructure would be a very serious mistake.

Considering cooperative research as an umbrella term for activities that involve both government and stakeholders, there is a continuum of levels of cooperation that may range from longterm survey programs conducted almost exclusively by government, perhaps with some review by stakeholders, to data collection programs or research programs conducted almost exclusively by stakeholders with some review by government. An example of the later is the seabird bycatch reduction study by the North Pacific longline fleet, Sea Grant, and university scientists.