Fishery-related Information Sources
Following a review of the available information on spawning aggregations, the resource manager's fact-finding starting point should be the fishers themselves. Here are some key points to help navigate the fisher discussions:
- Where there is commercial, subsistence, or recreational fishing, the best means of obtaining information is usually to compile traditional knowledge from local patriarch and/or matriarch fishers. These fishers typically have a unique and historical perspective on the location, timing and composition of fish spawning aggregations, as well as the effects of fishing on them. Accessing this information requires good social skills, patience, dedication and, at a minimum, a basic knowledge of fishes, fishing, and spawning aggregation dynamics.
- Fact-finding exercises are not always easy, since fishers are often reluctant to share knowledge with an outsider, who could potentially limit their freedom to access the spawning aggregation, or share what is often guarded knowledge of prime fishing sites with competing interests. Fisher interviews, while seemingly simple, are often quite complex and, to be successful, may require substantial investments in time and effort. Try to identify the most experienced, most respected member of the fishing community. That person is likely the one who will be able to guide you to the proper areas, and also the person likely to be most influential in gaining stakeholder consensus for FSA conservation.
- Learning to ask the right questions is critical to a successful interview. A number of resources are available to ensure your questions are meaningful and your answers are accurate.
- Prior to conducting any interview, the interviewer should announce: (a) the purpose of the interview; (b) the agency or agencies using the information; (c) the confidentiality of any information provided; (d) a bit of background on why these interviews are relevant or important, both to you and to him/her; and, (e) what you plan on doing with the information, once gathered.
- Generally speaking, fisher interviews that are focused on locating spawning aggregations begin with a broader discussion of local fishing that may include, for example: the species most important to local fishers; the best time of year, or time of month, to fish; information on weather patterns, lunar cycles and other natural events that promote fishing activities; general fishing methods; fishing legends or myths; largest or most exciting catch; or fishing taboos. Answers to these types of questions, and questions about spawning aggregations, are unlikely to come during a single interview session, and will likely require one or more follow-up sessions. Be sure to include plenty of time in your schedule to allow for follow-up interviews.
- When fishers provide information, it is often useful or necessary to share similar information from other areas, or to share fishing experiences that you have had that might be of interest to the fisher. This exchange may open up avenues of discussion. In this manner, the fisher gains a better understanding of you, your background, and your level of knowledge. Interviews should follow a give-and-receive “knowledge sharing” format whereby you are providing information to the fisher, as he or she provides information to you.
- Interviews should be interactive for you and the fisher being interviewed. Fishers may want to participate in activities related to locating or accessing aggregations for which they have made information available. Interviewers may be asked to observe or participate in spawning aggregation fishing. Observational activities provide yet another venue for discussions about the importance of FSAs to ecosystems and management and conservation. However, actively participating in aggregation fishing is considered counter-productive to the overarching conservation message, and is always strongly discouraged.
- Fishers may provide information that seems implausible or contrary to current scientific or biological understanding. For example, fishers may attribute certain events to sorcery or other supernatural events. Nonetheless, there is typically an underlying meaning that is useful to understanding the fish, the fishery, or the local culture; so do not discount any information until alternative explanations are explored satisfactorily.
- Asking a few questions to which the answers are already known is one way of checking the accuracy of the information gathered. However, do not be patronizing. If answers to questions do not become readily available, try asking the question again in another way. It is entirely likely that the fisher has no information on FSA locations or times.
- Spawning seasons can often be determined through fisher interviews, by posing such simple questions as “When is the best time to catch this fish?” or “Have you ever noticed eggs in these fishes and, if so, do you remember the time of year?”
- Keep your questions simple and relevant. While spawning aggregation dynamics are complex, interviews need not be.
- Fishers will often not be comfortable sharing information with persons lacking at least a basic knowledge of fish and fishing, including knowledge of spawning aggregations. Having this basic knowledge also increases the interviewer’s ability to gauge the depth of skill and knowledge of the fisher ,and the information provided on local aggregations. This is why it is important to gather background information before setting off to conduct interviews. It is often quite useful to take along a conservation-minded fisher to assist in interviews.
- Interviewers should bear in mind that fishers are professionals, and are providing a valuable service free of charge, and as any other professional, they should always be treated with respect. Fishers are local experts on FSAs and they can assist in locating and protecting spawning aggregations. The design, protection and enforcement of marine resources are often facilitated by creating a positive relationship with fishers and fishing communities.