Reflections on a fisheries conference

Hola! I’ve just got back from a great week in Barcelona where I attended the GAP2 symposium ‘Participatory Research and Co-management in Fisheries’. Tired but inspired are the two words I’d probably use to describe my week – I had such an amazing time that I didn’t want to come home!

In case you’re reading this and don’t know what the GAP2 project is, it’s basically an EU funded project which aims to ‘demonstrate the role and value of stakeholder driven science within the context of fisheries’ governance’. In other words, the work of the project has brought together fishers, researchers and policy makers to try to solve common problems associated with fisheries and their management. Research projects, exchange trips and workshops are just some of the things that they’ve been getting up to.

As GAP2 is coming to an end (with the hope of a GAP3 in the pipeline), a conference was held to celebrate the project’s achievements and, more importantly, talk about lessons learnt and directions for the future. I myself had no involvement in any of GAP2’s work but I thought it would be a great conference to go to and learn from as being someone about to embark on a multi-stakeholder PhD project there is much that I need to think about! I’m so glad I went as it really was an interesting, inspiring and fun week and I met so many great people that were doing such cool work whether that be science or fishing!

One of the best things about this conference was being able to hear from all the different people who have an interest in fisheries. Listening to fishermen talk proudly about their fisheries, researchers excitedly discuss their findings and managers express their hopes for the futures were all valuable points of view that as a scientist I don’t manage to come across often and hear discussed at the same time in the same room. And let’s not forget the NGOs – that’s something that was discussed quite a bit during the week. NGOs have very important roles to play in participatory research and co-management and their value and input should not be ignored or forgotten. A refreshing learning point for me was that hearing all these different peoples backgrounds and points of view still ultimately boiled down to everyone wanting very similar outcomes in the end – sustainable (ecologically AND socio-economically), productive and profitable fisheries. I love this photo that I found in their photo exhibit..

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A great aspect of the conference was their ‘Great Exhibition’ that was put on– this basically encouraged everyone involved in GAP2 to present their work in a novel and interactive way. There were videos, a ‘collaboration café’ and posters with interactive elements. It was a great idea and allowed you to talk to people in depth about their projects in a much better way than just sitting and listening to a talk. I would love to see this happening at scientific conferences!

Now back in the UK, I’ve tried to think about and summarise some of the key messages that I took/learnt from the last couple of days. As I learnt at the social science methods workshop they held, reflection is key to a successful project, so I thought I would try some reflection here! Some points may seem slightly obvious, but for me setting out on my PhD journey I think I’ve learnt some important tips…

  • Participatory research is a process which takes time to develop and build up. Establishing trust, being honest and open with one another, and being willing to discuss and take part in things you might not feel comfortable with initially are essential if the project is going to work.
  • Feedback is key! Too often in the case of participatory research projects, people are ‘mined’ for their information and knowledge but the results and insights are never fed back. Taking the time to meet up and chat about what you’ve found and learnt, and also getting feedback on what you’ve done, is an essential part of the process. It’s all about give and take.
  • When starting out on a participatory project, it’s important to be clear from the onset what each stakeholders role is. Establishing each of their key interests and inputs is crucial to enable constructive research and true collaboration.

There were also some challenges that were highlighted throughout the few days that many people thought were important to think about in future research and co-management, and perhaps any future GAP project should consider:

  • How do we include policy makers and managers in these projects and feed information to them to really make a long lasting change?
  • What about the legal frameworks to support co management efforts that start from the bottom up? How can fishers be more effectively (legally) supported?
  • How do we get fishers who don’t want to be involved involved? What incentives (if any?) can we provide to get them to join in/keep them being involved?
  • What can we do to minimise the time lags of science taking a long time to analyse data and come to conclusions, and the lag of policy to respond to the needs of fishers?

Whilst the GAP2 project has highlighted some great, successful examples of participatory research and co-management, it is clear that there are still some hurdles and barriers to get through. However, I came away from the conference with a great feeling that there is a lot of momentum throughout the fisheries sector (from researchers, policy makers, NGOs and fishers) to collaborate with each other, share knowledge and generally be a lot more proactive in order to have more sustainable and prosperous fisheries. I for one am excited to see what comes next!

I’ll leave this post with some cheeky tourist snaps of the lovely city of Barcelona!

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