Posts tagged ‘cooperation’
by Katie Okamoto
In southern New England’s fishing towns, where I have spent most of my time, big draggers and small lobster boats alike sit idle through their usual seasons. Here, people talk about a sea change. Nobody is exactly sure how things will change, but there is a definite sense of now-or-never. Managers talk about a “transition” and a “new path.” Scientists talk about partnerships with fishermen. Fishermen talk about being on the brink of local extinction or stronger survival—the question is which way the ball will roll.
This summer, while searching for interviewees for my thesis in Environmental Studies, I met many inspirational people on all sides of the fisheries management table, people who were moved to tears talking about the “fishing way of life,” people who despite a climate of cynicism and distrust believe in the collective power of individuals to come together around a social and ecological legacy. The founder of a New Bedford fishermen’s advocacy group put it this way: “Right now collaboration is the only thing to free us.”
Local food systems like New England’s fishing industry are essential to sustaining the resource. Yes, fishermen kill fish, but they also need healthy fisheries. It will always be impossible to please everyone in fisheries management. The problem is that the current structure places the human community at a less important level than the ecological one, fatally ignoring their interconnectedness. True collaboration is hindered by miscommunication, resentment and insufficient knowledge-sharing, and the interactions to improve those relations are rare in the existing hierarchical management structure.
I have been interested in how environmental issues are communicated between ‘experts’ and the public; my experiences in fisheries turned that academic interest into an obsession of urgency. Collaboration really is the only thing to free us—not fishermen, not scientists, not managers, but us, all collective problem-solvers and users of the ocean. While managers, scientists and fishermen can vehemently disagree, there is consensus around these words: trust, respect, knowledge-sharing. The change that’s in the air will not be positive without different, better interaction. Sadly, like the fish, patience, hope and enthusiasm are not everlasting, especially if relations between fishermen, scientists and managers undergo further strain in the economic downturn. Fishermen seem to be on their last string.
I have described the New England Fish Forum as a labor of love and frustration. Though what I hear in management meetings can be discouraging, the people in those meetings inspire this project. With the help of the Fish Forum, I hope they will inspire each other. It will be a definite challenge, but in many ways it is now or never.