Communicating effectively about the importance, vulnerability, and biology of spawning aggregations is critical to conservation efforts. As with other conservation communications, the key users should be targeted. In the case of FSAs, fishers and those involved in the fishing industry (e.g., buyers, sellers, and processors) should be engaged in active communications about FSAs. As there is often mistrust of resource managers and government officials, creative communication strategies should be considered. Fisher exchanges have been employed in recent years with great success.
Fisher exchanges provide an opportunity for fishers to meet fishing peers from other locations (e.g., villages, countries, regions), and discuss the problems and solutions associated with fishery declines. Bringing fishers to new places can provide a fresh perspective on local issues. Some of the potential exchange opportunities and outcomes are detailed below.
The Big Fish
Depending on the age of the fisher, there is potential for the fisher to be unaware of how large a particular species of fish can grow, when fishing pressure is managed well. Taking fishers from areas that are heavily fished to areas where fishing is more sustainable can be very eye-opening for those who have never seen big fish. Fishers return home with stories of big fish in abundance, and can be very enthusiastic about sharing this experience with peers. This experience can potentially lead the fisher to become more active in gaining the support of peers, to improve the quality of fishery management.
Consequences of Overfishing
For fishers in places where fish stocks are in reasonable condition, traveling to a place where the situation is more severe can also be very revealing. Some fishers believe that the supply of fish from the sea can never be depleted, and that the fish will always be there. Hearing directly from other fishers about how the fishery has declined, and how it has affected livelihoods and quality of life, can be powerful for visiting fishers. These fishers are often motivated to be more engaged in fishery conservation, and have been known to become outspoken representatives of fishing groups with a desire to see the fishery well managed.
Fishery Management and Fishing Practices
Facilitating discussions between fisher groups that have experienced different management approaches can help expose fishers to new ways of thinking about management, as well as solidify opinions about good management practices. For example, fishers may have been ambivalent about a particular management practice, but once they realize the alternatives, they become more supportive and confident in the management approach. Learning first hand about how the fishery is managed in a different place can be an effective way to introduce management practices, because fishers can see that it has been successful in other areas. Similarly, discussions about particular fishing practices can achieve new understanding of the sustainability of those practices. For example, when sharing how and when a fisher takes lobster, a fisher getting a negative response from peers—such as, ‘wow, why would you take that species when they are breeding?’—may cause the fisher to reconsider the practice.
There is no replacement for hearing or seeing things first hand. Providing opportunities for fishers to exchange information, and to share ideas with peers, can be a very empowering experience. Continuing to work with these fishers long after the exchange can be an effective way of building fishing community support, to implement more sustainable fishing practices.
A Fisher’s Journey (Documentary Video, 11:46 minutes)