We are social science researchers first, and fisheries researchers second
Small-scale fishers and fishworkers sustain themselves from the life below water, but construct their lives and communities based on what is on land; people who fish depend on their communities as much as on their boats and gear.
From a research perspective, communities are not just a focus, but also a locus… We need to draw from a broader range of theories and ideas when we do fisheries research – be social science researchers first, and fisheries researchers second.
Written by: Brennan Lowery, TBTI student
In his keynote at the 2019 MARE conference in Amsterdam, Svein Jentoft showcased how changes in fisheries affect communities, focusing particularly on the fate of coastal communities and their role in small-scale fisheries. The followings highlight his key messages:
Around the world, small-scale fishing communities are highly diverse, but are linked by their dependence on the sea. These communities are not frozen in time and research can shed light on dynamics in fisheries communities that are difficult to understand from the outside. Communities may be poor in financial capital but abundant in social capital. Ultimately, small-scale fisheries will not survive if their communities perish, which is why sustainable small-scale fisheries depend on secure fishing communities. We must do a better job in acknowledging the value of the moral community that helps sustain fishing communities, as well as the needed investments.
From a research perspective, communities are not just a focus, but also a locus, and an important place to study issues that occur in other similar places. Often the community is primarily a context. We can have some idea about what small-scale fisheries are, from studying them from afar, but we need to engage with small-scale fishing communities directly in order to fully understand them. Based on these observations and this understanding, we build our social science theories.
These days, we let government define our research questions more than we used to. We must understand how governments see the world, which is often very different from how communities see it. In today’s neoliberal policy agenda, communities are often seen as collateral damage – the SSF Guidelines and the human rights-based approach underlying them are meant to safeguard these communities in the face of neoliberal policies.
As researchers, we need to draw from a broader range of theories and ideas when we do fisheries research. It is important, however, that we are social science researchers first, and fisheries researchers second. We must draw from the vast wealth of research and literature that already exists, acknowledging that there are very few brand new ideas.
With respect to sustainable small-scale fishing communities, we need to provide more evidence about the causal relationships we assume between: Nature, Resources, Individuals, Culture and Communities. Prof. Jentoft concluded that, too often, we assume that nature and biology determines all else in fisheries, including what happens in communities, but in fact, the causal arrow often goes from the community to the natural resources.
Want to learn more about the issues covered in the keynote?
Prof. Jentoft has recently published a book ‘Life Above Water’ that offers thoughtful reflections about small-scale fisheries. His essays provide the public with a way to understand the ‘why’ question of social science research, at the same time encouraging fellow social and transdisciplinary scientists to continue to work towards making real change on the ground while maintaining scientific integrity. For those reading about small-scale fisheries for the first time, ‘Life Above Water’ brings to the fore the meaning and value of small-scale fisheries and why we should care about them.
For further information about the book, CLICK HERE.