Design, Execution and Management of Cooperative Research
At this point, few in fisheries would deny the importance and relevance of cooperative research. With a rapidly growing presence in the nation’s fisheries, the time for that is past, and the challenges we now face are functional, not philosophical. Ironically, in many ways, the challenges find their roots in one of the greatest strengths of cooperative research: the partnership of industry, science, and management. These interests have had little experience working together, and while the money, the will, and the need are on hand, the tools and techniques are not. The rapid growth of cooperative research contributes to the challenge as well, especially when combined with the traditionally slow pace of management. In some cases, the pace of fishing for data has outstripped the capacity to process it and the maintenance capabilities of the research infrastructure. While stakeholders are well along in the process of working together in the field, in some ways, they lag in their ability to translate their results into management. Growing pains are to be expected though, and bright spots on the horizon are numerous. As stakeholders accumulate experience, both individually and as teams, the process will get smoother.
Successful cooperative research projects must feature strong partnerships—ideally, a team composed of industry, scientists, and managers is formed from the start and collaborates all the way from planning through execution to processing results. The Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association (CCCHFA) is especially committed to the concept of industry participation. Too often, the fisherman’s role is limited to the charter of his or her vessel and these paper partnerships are not successful. They fail to achieve the full potential of cooperative research. While they may deliver a good product to the taxpayer or funder, and provide important supplemental income to the fisherman, they do not deliver the working relationships between stakeholders that form the third critical benefit of the process. CCCHFA involves fishermen from start to finish, taking direction from an internal industry-based research steering committee to plan and manage programs and working hard to get fishermen actually doing the science.
Flexibility and communication are extremely important in order to sustain and nurture these partnerships. Fishermen may have difficulty understanding the constraints imposed by the scientific needs of a project. Several times during the large, regional cod-tagging project, CCCHFA staff became pretty unpopular with our industry partners when we shut down our operations due to localized saturation. The fishermen could not understand why we did not want to tag while the tagging was good. However, once we demonstrated the problem through good communication, they demonstrated flexibility by shifting their thinking and moving forward in other directions. This is not a surprising problem—most fishermen have never dealt with a scientific protocol, statement of work, or research permit. Likewise, scientists, project managers, and funders may have never dealt with the limitations of vessels, the vagaries of weather, or the mysterious disappearances of fish and must maintain flexibility in their approaches to these challenges. Perhaps above all, the two sides must maintain communication and flexibility on matters of money. When budgets or business realities loom, each should try to stand for a moment in the other’s financial shoes.