Current Literature: Utilisation of Information by Practitioners in the Fishing Industry



“Current Literature” is a recurring feature highlighting recent publications of interest on the science-policy interface.


Much scholarship investigating the use of scientific information in the management of marine ecosystems has naturally focused on direct use by policy- and decision-makers. However, the range of stakeholders with an interest and a role to play in the implementation of management strategies extends beyond the official decision-makers.

One such stakeholder group is practitioners in the fishing industry. Practitioners can play a role in the initial collection of data to inform management decisions (Soomai, 2009). Moreover, once decisions are made, fishing industry practitioners require salient information in order to implement changes and comply with new regulations. This is particularly true in a contemporary environment that sees practitioners under increasing pressure to reduce bycatch and conform to restrictive quotas (Eliasen & Bichel, 2016).

Fishing industry practitioners face a delicate balancing act between short term economic needs and longer term environmental objectives. Unfortunately, as interview data from a recent EIUI study (Ross, 2015) highlighted, these practitioners often lack the resources necessary to devote time to the analysis of scientific information in the service of these goals, even when it is packaged specifically to address their information needs.

Two recent publications focus attention on the use of information by fishing industry practitioners.

The rise of the scientific fisherman: Mobilising knowledge and negotiating user rights in the Devon inshore brown crab fishery, UK

Dubois, Hadjimichael, and Raakjaer (2016) report on and analyze a process of collaborative knowledge generation between crab fishers from Devon, UK and scientists from the University of Leicester. The context for this collaboration was the proposed introduction of two new marine spatial planning tools—the UK’s Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and the EU’s Special Areas of Conversation—to replace the Devon crab fishery’s previous governance model, the locally administered Inshore Potting Agreement (IPA). This change in planning tools also heralded a change of focus in the management of the fishery: where before a self-governed fishery had been managed with an exclusive focus on the sustainability of the brown crab fishery, now the space would also need to address the EU priority of reef conservation.

The changes to the governance of the Devon marine space also raised the spectre of a renegotiation of usage rights. This presented a situation in which local fishers were incentivized to collaborate in the development of the new regime in order to maintain their own position, but also one in which they were naturally inclined to regard the collaboration with distrust. Dubois et al. (2016) report tension in the proceedings due to fishers’ perception that they are the only true stakeholder in this particular marine space—in the words of one fisherman, “there is nothing at stake for [managers] because if the MCZ goes wrong you won’t be out of a job” (p. 52). Tension also arose between scientists and fishers in cases where local knowledge and research knowledge disagreed, with government scientists noting that fishers’ distrust of the process was increased whenever the government’s information proved inaccurate.

As the process continued, Dubois et al. (2016) report that continued collaboration resulted in the development of alliances between fishers and scientists. Local Devon crab fisheries rely on static catching methods, with agreements to allow limited use by larger organizations, which rely primarily on trawling. Under these existing agreements, some areas in the Devon fishery had not been trawled for up to fifty years. Research into reef status in these areas revealed substantial conservation benefits to the benthic environment. These findings presented an opportunity for the local fishers to ally with scientists to reframe their existing governance methods, developed exclusively to maintain sustainability of the fishery, as beneficial to the cause of reef conservation. As a result of this alliance, local fishers were ultimately successful in negotiating for exclusive user rights to the Devon fishery, with trawling operations brought to a full halt.

Dubois et al. (2016) argue that this case demonstrates a shift in the way that fishers interact with scientific knowledge—the titular “rise of the scientific fisherman.” Under a traditional model of single-species management governance is top-down, with scientists acting as gatekeepers and fishers having a limited role in the process (for instance, collecting data but not being involved in the interpretation of that data). In such a model, fishers’ primary role is as knowledge holders and their primary input into the process is to argue for the credibility of their local knowledge. With the shift towards an ecosystem-based management approach with a stakeholder participation model of governance, fishers are incentivized to engage with research information and form alliances with scientists and managers in order to advocate for their own interests, becoming knowledge agents in addition to knowledge holders.

Fishers sharing real-time information about “bad” fishing locations: A tool for quota optimisation under a regime of landing obligations

Eliason and Bichel (2016) investigate interactions between fishers in a shared marine environment, with a focus on how real-time catch information is shared by fishers looking to minimize bycatch to optimize the exploitation of their shared resources. Under the real-time closure framework established by the EU in 2009, bycatch quotas are designated for various protected species, and when a quota is reached for a single protected species, fishing operations in that area must be terminated for a pre-determined period. In this context, Eliason and Bichel report on the present use of information sharing techniques among fishers and propose four potential models for a formalization of the information sharing process.

The presence of a single-species bycatch quota to trigger closures establishes an incentive for the sharing of real-time information even between fishers who are otherwise in competition. This sharing primarily focuses on the identification of bycatch “hotspots”: areas where atypically high rates of bycatch are occurring and that should thus be avoided. While Eliason and Bichel (2016) acknowledge some success on the part of these informal networks, a “tragedy of the commons” problem remains, with some users in the region hesitating to participate due to the conflict between short-term and long-term self-interest. Indeed, the authors report that resistance to the program occurred from two angles: first, recipients of information about hotspots choosing not to cease activities in those areas and, second, a rate of only 60% of practitioners in the area sharing catch information in the first place.

In light of the benefits and challenges of the existing informal networks, the authors propose four models for formalizing the process: automated information sharing, semi-automated information sharing, organised information sharing, or informal information sharing. These four models are then discussed in the context of their potential to be implemented in the Danish/Swedish nephrops fishery in Kattegat and Skagerrak. Through interviews with fishers in the region, Eliason and Bichel uncover evidence of conflicting incentives: fishers can acknowledge the potential value of information sharing, but are skeptical of automated processes that expose their information to regulators (suspecting, in the words of one fisher, that “information from us will likely be used against us” (p. 21) through obligatory closures of potential hotspots) and are concerned about the potential for free-riders benefitting from the information shared by fellow fishers while keeping their own information to themselves.

In light of these findings, the authors believe that an upcoming discard ban on bycatch in the Kattegat/Skagerrak fishery will provide sufficient incentive for fishers in the region to acquiesce to and benefit from a semi-automated or organised model of information sharing. The authors further propose a potential merging of these two options, with larger vessels governed by a semi-automated model while smaller, independent vessels report on a case-to-case basis, to maximize the benefits of the program while alleviating the concerns of smaller fishers.


Author: James D. Ross



Dubois, M., Hadjimichael, M., & Raakjær, J. (2016). The rise of the scientific fisherman: Mobilising knowledge and negotiating user rights in the Devon inshore brown crab fishery, UK. Marine Policy, 65, 48-55. doi: 10.1016/j.marpol.2015.12.013

Eliason, S.Q. & Bichel, N. (2016). Fishers sharing real-time information about “bad” fishing locations. A tool for quota optimisation under a regime of landing obligations. Marine Policy, 64, 16-23. doi: 10.1016/j.marpol.2015.11.007

Ross, J.D. (2015). What do users want from a state of the environment report? A case study of the State of the Scotian Shelf Report [unpublished Master’s thesis]. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University.

Further Reading

Baelde, P. (2007). Using fishers’ knowledge goes beyond filling gaps in scientific knowledge: Analysis of Australian experiences. Fishers’ Knowledge in Fisheries Science and Management, 381-399.

Bundy, A., & Davis, A. (2013). Knowing in context: An exploration of the interface of marine harvesters’ local ecological knowledge with ecosystem approaches to management. Marine Policy38, 277-286. doi: 10.1016/j.marpol.2012.06.003

Hind, E.J. (2015). A review of the past, the present, and the future of fishers’ knowledge research: a challenge to established fisheries science. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 72(2), 341-358. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsu169

Holm, P. (2003). Crossing the border: On the relationship between science and fisherman’s knowledge in a resource management context. MAST, 2, 5-33.

Kearney, J., Berkes, F., Charles, A., Pinkerton, E., & Wiber, M. (2007). The role of participatory governance and community-based management in integrated coastal and ocean management in Canada. Coastal Management, 35(1). doi: 10.1080/10.1080/08920750600970511

Soomai, S. (2009). Information and Influence in Fisheries Management: A Preliminary Study of the Shrimp and Groundfish Resources in the Brazil-Guianas Continental Shelf. [Unpublished MMM graduate project]. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University.


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