From counting fish to exploring the human side of fisheries: My student journey into small-scale fisheries studies

By Nova Almine, TBTI Global Research Assistant

I recently completed my Master’s degree in Geography at Memorial University in Canada. My thesis focused on dried fish value chain dynamics in Thailand. Due to COVID-related travel constraints that hampered my fieldwork, I relied on a scoping study conducted by the Dried Fish Matters (DFM) Thailand team and used remote surveys, secondary sources, and netnography of Facebook dried fish vendors to obtain insights into this frequently disregarded value chain. The study demonstrated the adaptability of dried fish actors as fishers, producers, and vendors who embraced digital marketing strategies to deal with pandemic-related challenges. It also emphasized social media’s importance in raising awareness about dried fish, its nutritional value, and increasing consumer consumption.

My research journey also included visits to small-scale fishing communities in Thailand, and this immersive experience helped me to better understand the lives of fishers, processors, and vendors. I gained a deep understanding of their traditions, culture, and the diverse challenges they encounter, from changing environmental conditions to evolving dynamics within the community. These encounters made me respect the close connections that keep these communities going.

While my research in Thailand had some challenges, like language barriers and cultural differences, the experience thought me to be patient and flexible. A local translator helped me to communicate better. The Google Translate application was also handy. The experience taught me the importance of building good relationships and trust with people from different cultures. It made my study more exciting and helped broaden my understanding of global diversity.

A beautiful day out in the fishing community in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Thailand. Credit: N. Almine

I want to thank Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee, my supervisor and Director of TBTI Global, for being an excellent mentor and a vital source of support throughout my academic journey. She taught me to see challenges as chances to learn and improve. I am grateful for her guidance and encouragement throughout this journey. I am also thankful to Dr. Derek Johnson at the University of Manitoba and the lead of the DFM project who gave me funding and provided support for my research. The DFM project enriched my learning experience and allowed me to contribute to a large-scale research initiative.

With my mentor, Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee, celebrating our shared success!

When I look back at my time as an international student, I am thankful for the opportunities and knowledge I gained. Adapting to the cold embrace of Canada, far from the warmth of family, my time here taught me the value of resilience and independence. It has also taught me the importance of looking into the weather forecast and learning to wear ‘layers’, making sure my clothes is always windproof and waterproof. Along the way, I made new friends who have supported me and enriched my life with their warm friendship, learning, and sharing of each other’s cultures – making my international experience even more rewarding.

Meanwhile, academic challenges initially seemed tricky, but they helped me grow and become more adaptive. My experiences in Thailand’s small-scale fishing communities and seafood markets were enriching, both academically and personally. Coming from the Philippines, where seafood and dried fish are such a vital part of our food and culture, it gave me a foundation for understanding the dried fish sector in Thailand. My passion for the ocean and marine life was shaped by growing up surrounded by the sea in the Philippines. I studied marine biology in a state university in my province and was able to explore the diverse marine ecosystems in the Philippines. During this time, I interacted with local communities and understood the intricate connection between people and the sea, which ultimately lead me to explore the social aspects of small-scale fisheries through the prism of dried fish.

A special dish in Thailand made from dried fish (anchovies) and watermelon. They say it used to be a ‘food for the royals.’ Credit: N. Almine

A typical dried fish shop in Thailand with a wide range of dried fish products. I want to try them all! Credit: N. Almine

Currently, I am a research assistant for TBTI Global as a continuation of my academic journey. My role involves working on projects that address issues facing small-scale fisheries, spanning from topics related to fisheries governance, environmental conservation to socioeconomic dimensions and community resilience. It also means collaborating with diverse teams of researchers and stakeholders within the TBTI network. The transdisciplinary nature of the research allows me to create a holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities in small-scale fisheries and ensures that knowledge generated within the TBTI network contributes to positive changes in lives of those dependent on small-scale fisheries. My role in TBTI also involves assisting with the organization and participation of workshops, conferences, and knowledge-sharing initiatives that connect me with a global community dedicated to the wellbeing of small-scale fisheries. Excited for continued contributions, I anticipate making a lasting impact on the sustainability and resilience of small-scale fisheries around the world.

I am excited and honoured to be part of a growing network of researchers of TBTI Global. Credit: TBTI Global