Chapter 14: Use of Social and Economic Information in Fisheries Assessments
Kevin M. Hunt and Stephen C. Grado
Fisheries management can be defined as the process of working with a given aquatic habitat and community of organisms for the benefit of people in a recreational or commercial setting (Weithman 1999). This process depends on numerous inputs to decision-making with strong emphasis on scientifically-based information (Decker et al. 2001). For many years, fisheries managers collected biological and ecological information to support management decisions, but information from resource users and other constituents was typically collected in an informal manner or through public hearings and responses to public notices. Nevertheless, it has often been said that any policy or regulation, no matter how scientifically sound, will fail if it is not in accord with the fundamental views of the public. Many seasoned fisheries managers will admit, often reluctantly, that fisheries management is as much or more about people management as it is about the fish and to be effective they must have information about those with an interest in the fate of aquatic resources. These individuals and groups are often referred to as stakeholders (see Chapter 5). Therefore, it is important that fisheries managers collect scientifically-based information from their stakeholders as well as the fishes and their habitats.
The information needed from stakeholders is diverse and involves numerous fields related to the study of humans, such as psychology, sociology, demography, anthropology, public administration and policy, geography, and economics. Each disciplinary perspective considers a different dimension (or different perspective on the same dimension) of the complex of social phenomena that is fisheries management. Collectively, these disciplines are more commonly referred to as the “human dimensions” of fisheries management and their consideration is essential for fisheries administrators and managers to make more informed fisheries management decisions. Compared with biological and ecological studies of lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and streams, human dimensions studies are relatively recent arrivals to the inland fisheries management process, primarily taking root in the past 40 years. However, understanding human dimensions has become important because the angling (and nonangling) public is increasingly demanding that the fisheries management process be open and transparent and that decisions be based on a fair process that considers the best available scientific information.