Fieldwork diaries volume 3: learning what fisheries are really about

Well I did it! After almost 5 months of fieldwork I have finally finished. The last interview has been written up and transcribed and now there is just the small task of analysing all of this awesome information. I can honestly say that this fieldwork has been the best thing I’ve done in my PhD. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been hard work and I’ve been pretty anxious about it at times, but I have learnt SO much and have met truly lovely people. From the fishermen to vessel owners, the fish ‘n’ chip shop owners to the boat managers, all have been enthusiastic, passionate and brilliantly honest. I couldn’t have hoped for more.

Looking back, when I set out doing this fieldwork I hadn’t really got a full understanding of fisheries and their importance. Sure I’d met a few fishermen and been out on their boats, and I’ve visited fishing villages around the UK on various summer holidays and watched the boats as I’ve eaten an ice cream. I’ve also read textbooks about fisheries, studied them during my undergraduate and masters degrees, and now actively do research on them. But I didn’t really know what fisheries were truly about until I started this fieldwork, and really I’ve only just scratched the surface. It’s so much more than fish. It’s communities, livelihoods, family, friendship. It’s the waking up at silly o’clock to set out on a fishing trip, risking life and limb to try and catch enough fish to pay your wages to support your family. It’s persistence, determination, sheer doggedness at going day after day, week after week, often on your own and sometimes with little financial return. I remember someone saying that Brixham fishermen were tenacious, gritty hunter gatherers of the sea. I think they were right.

It’s this community and heritage that I have most enjoyed getting to know these past months. Brixham is built upon fishing; the industry is woven into its history and way of being. Anyone you speak to or come across in Brixham has some connection to the sea and its fishermen; an anecdote about their grandfathers’ adventures on the old Brixham sailing trawlers, tales of bountiful fishing trips with baskets full of black gold, a eulogy of a loved one sadly lost at sea. Fishing is in many ways the lifeblood of Brixham. Without it it would be a very different place.

This sense of community has been wonderful to witness and be a small part of. From the early morning jokes and teasing in the fish market to the chitchat in cafes throughout the day, the group discussions and conversations at the quayside to debates in the pub. Everyone knows everyone here, whether that be a good or bad thing! There is a big sense of camaraderie, people are willing to help each other out, and they are proud and passionate about what they do. People want a sustainable industry, they hope for a new fishing generation to get involved, and wish for good times ahead.

This passion is infectious. It gives me optimism. I think we too often receive negative stories about the industry, of stocks overfished beyond their means. Whilst this is true for many, there are positive stories to be told and many of these fishermen are actively working to be more sustainable. I’ve been told about initiatives such as Project 50%, Discardless and Fishing for Litter. Causes for some #oceanoptimism I’d say. People have confided in me their hopes and fears for the future of fishing. They want a sustainable industry with thriving fish stocks and happy fishermen. So do I. There is still the need it appears, despite age-old lamenting, for scientists, fishermen and managers to talk and work together on issues to achieve these aims, putting biases aside. Easier said than done I know, but this issue of communication came up time and time again throughout my time here.

You’re probably reading this and thinking that I am romanticising this industry and my time spent in Brixham. Maybe I am a bit. But, sometimes I think we need to. Being a scientist working on fisheries, we can get caught up in the quotas and fish and money and sectors. Whilst obviously important, there’s more to it than that. Fisheries are about people and heritage, community and friendships, and people’s interconnectedness with the sea and Mother Nature that few are lucky enough to have. I hope that I can continue to be involved with the fishing industry throughout my research and beyond – I am hooked.

So. To finish. All I can really say is a thank you to everyone that I met and who helped me with this work. Thank you for welcoming me, for your honesty and showing me what it means to be part of a fishing community. To put it simply, it has been a wonderful time. Now it’s time to persuade some people to let me on their boats…

Finally, here are some snaps of my final few weeks in Brixham and a trip out cuttlefishing (thanks Gary!)

Finishing off fieldwork with a well deserved glass of wine and some grilled mackerel!

Fieldwork diaries volume 2: Am I a local yet?!

So, another month down and I’ve almost got to my target of interviewing 30 fishermen! Spending week in, week out down here, I’m starting to feel like a bit of a local in Brixham – a coveted title that I’m sure I won’t properly achieve but I certainly feel like I know the town pretty well by now! This fieldwork seems to have gone quickly whilst also at times painfully slowly. I started in January in the depths of winter when most of the fleet was tied up at the quay and fishermen were despairing over when they could next get out. Gradually the weather has ebbed away into sunshine and calmer winds, and now the true beginnings of summer seem to be on their way (fingers crossed!). The kiosks are open, ice creams are being served and the high street is buzzing. I have slowly fallen in love with Brixham and the people in it.

But gosh, it’s been a hard slog. The concept of social fieldwork doesn’t seem too difficult when you start off, it’s just talking to people right?! But as I alluded to in my last blog post, and will again now, social fieldwork is hard work! Finding people and pinning them down is a constant up-hill battle, and at times there have been days on end where I have sat in cafes after many rejections anxiously wondering if I’ll ever reach my target. But equally, it’s been extremely rewarding and I absolutely love it. With a bit of persistence and an open mind, the stories I have been told, the people I have met and the things I have been able to see and experience have been brilliantly fascinating and eye opening.

So, as now seems to be custom for my blog posts these days, here’s another list of things I’ve learnt along the way.

1. You drink ridiculous amounts of tea and coffee

I mean, I’m an academic so I drink a lot of caffeine anyway. But during this fieldwork I have drank so much tea I may as well just have it in an IV drip hooked up to my arm.

2. It’s really unpredictable and you’re never sure where you stand

People are difficult creatures to work with, and fishermen are no different. Some weeks I’ve had one interview, other weeks I’ve had six. It’s hard to know exactly how your day or week is going to go and how many people you’ll manage to talk to, which makes planning a bit difficult. You just have to go with the flow, drink more tea (or gin) and just keep pestering people.

3. It’s tiring

Seems a funny one to state, and perhaps surprising given a lot of the time it’s just talking to people in cafes. But interviewing is a totally different thing compared to a normal conversation with someone and it can be very mentally draining. I didn’t expect it to be so tiring, so for anyone reading this about to embark upon social fieldwork, beware!

4. Everyone learns who you are and what you do 

So the thing is, if you hang out in a small town all week, every week for more than a month you start to get to know everyone in that town. Which is great, because everyone I’ve met so far has been really nice. But it’s also a bit disconcerting at times when people come up to you and say things such as ‘I’ve heard about you…’ or, more commonly on the fish quay (in a jokey way, I hope) ‘Oh bloody hell not you again!’ It’s all fun and games going through the initiation of becoming part of the furniture and a Brixham local (a coveted title which I will probably never achieve).

5. It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster

Like with anything I guess, some days are great and I have the best time. Other days are really hard, particularly if you have a difficult interview or don’t manage to get anybody to talk to. Being able to keep going and push on is really the only way to get through. Gin or cider (or any alcoholic beverage really) often helps.

6. You become a grade A stalker 

Unintentionally, I’ve ended up basically stalking a number of people who I know I really need/want to talk to but as yet don’t know them. It sounds creepy but I wait for these boats to come in by tracking them on marinetraffic.com, and then I further stalk them by watching the quay and walking round hoping to bump into them. In any other context I would seriously question my behaviour but in this it seems perfectly legit. Anything in the name of research, right??

7. People surprise you with their generosity and interest

Some people have quite frankly been an absolute pleasure to meet and talk to. They have been so generous with their time and willingness to share their knowledge, which has been great! I’ve also been given cups of tea, fish, pictures and drawings, trips on boats in addition to countless nuggets of information. Those moments are special.

8. The local cafe becomes your office 

I have one cafe where I continuously work now. I love it. I know the staff and the regular customers and even their dogs. Going back to Exeter is going to be difficult as there won’t be a continuous stream of tea, cake and unsuspecting fishermen walking through the door all the time.

9. You become good at distilling your science into 20 second bitesize chunks

As I wander up to a boat trying to find the skipper, I know that I only have a limited amount of time to try and get that person to be interested in what I have to say and convince them to take part in an interview. Inevitably I have had to learn to distill my scientific research into what is basically a sales pitch.

I’m not entirely sure how much longer I have left of my fieldwork as there are still a few particular boats I’d like to talk to but the fleet is now much harder to reach given the weather is better. Admittedly, I am also in no desperate rush to get back to the office – whilst I’m keen to get down to analysing all this information, I’m also really enjoying meeting so many different people and hearing their stories. Plus the ice cream is pretty good here! I suspect I’ll be done in the next few weeks, so obviously now I’m making sure to also take lots of pictures of this lovely town. Some are below!

Fieldwork diaries volume 1: Foraying into the social science world

The last few months I’ve started doing my social fieldwork down in Brixham which has consisted of me interviewing fishermen and other relevant stakeholders in the industry. It’s my first time doing this sort of thing and it has certainly been an eye opening experience so far! Social science is a whole other ball game compared to the data crunching, statistical modelling work I’ve been doing over the past few years, so it’s been both a refreshing change whilst also a challenging learning curve. Overall I’m really enjoying the experience – I’m learning loads of new things and insights about UK fisheries that quite frankly you’d never learn from a textbook, I’m meeting some really lovely people, and also managing to get some pretty cool information (I hope at least!) at the same time. Sure there have been a few ‘interesting’ moments shall we say, but overall I’m loving getting out of the office, into the ‘real world’ and pretending to be a social scientist.

As I enjoy a list, here are some initial things I’ve realised so far:

1. Turns out interviewing is actually kind of hard

I mean, I never thought it was going to be easy, but interviewing definitely requires very specific skills that I’m still trying to get better at. A few things spring to mind, for instance being able to know when to get people to expand on topics if you think they have more to share, getting people to even open up in the first place, being able to prompt but not in too much of a leading way, and being able to subtly stop people talking for the sake of not letting them get fatigued after the first few questions! It’s a bit trickier than it seems.

2. You find yourself clutching cakes and looking desperate whilst walking around a fish quay, and inwardly at times question your life choices

Some fishermen I’ve been introduced to via others or had their contact details given to me to ring up. But I’m increasingly finding that the best way to find people to interview is to walk round the quayside and just say hello and offer cake. It was pretty daunting at first (and to be honest I still find it so) but actually on the whole most people are pretty alright with you once you’ve explained who you are (and convinced them you aren’t some ‘greenie’ with a hidden agenda…)

3. Paper diaries become your best friend

I thought I was like, so over paper diaries. I mean I have an online calendar that links with all my gadgets. Turns out they’re pretty useless when you are on the phone to someone with no computer and only a pen, but need to plan when you’re going to fit them in with the other people you already have lined up. Paper diaries for the win.

4. Ditto dictaphone

If I lose this then my field notes alone really aren’t going to help that much (Note to self: improve on this). Writing and taking notes whilst trying to conduct an interview is quite hard!

5. You start to become obsessed with boats and where they are and when they’ll be back

I clutch my vessel list for approximately 50% of my time whilst I’m down in Brixham, frantically checking what boats are at the quay and who I can try to interview next. And forget facebook stalking, it’s all about tracking boats on Marinetraffic.com. It doesn’t help that every time I speak to a fishermen they add a new boat to the list of people I should talk to.

6. Finding a good café is like hitting the jackpot

A café where you can interview people, where fishermen hang out (and so you can sneakily creep up on them and ask for an interview), where you can work and transcribe interviews and also have a secret toilet cry when things get stressful is a god send. The best give you free tea too.

7. Persistence and ‘ballsiness’ are attributes that will serve you well in this game…

Some people are trickier to interview than others. Or to pin down in general. On constant repeat in my head: keep at it girl, one day you will speak to all the fishermen in the land and discover all of life’s mysteries and then you can go home and eat cake and have a gin.

8. For a fisheries ecologist working in a seaside town, you are extremely vulnerable to spending all your money on buying seaside whimsical items

I have already bought mermaid postcards, a decorative glittery whale and fish tea towels (and no I certainly have not given my number to the shop owner to call me when the new shellfish design comes in).

9. Your phone contact list becomes full of numbers from a demographic that you never really thought you would get familiar with

Middle aged men were never a demographic I thought much about. But now, well. It’s a different story

10. The ability to forward plan is extremely useful

The fact that fishermen go to sea for often days at a time means that being able to have enough other people to interview in the days others won’t be around is pretty much essential if you are to actually get round to interviewing anybody. I failed at this at the start but I think am now getting better (of course I owe it all to my magical PAPER diary).

11. Getting out and talking to people about your research is actually pretty fun

Not everyone agrees with what I’m doing, and why, but it’s certainly interesting and fun to talk about my work with people who are actually in the industry upon which my research is based. Sure it’s been a bit frustrating at times, but I think generally I’m pretty lucky to get to go and do this. Plus I’ve convinced some of the guys to take me out on their boats, so double win!

So there we have it. Currently I’m just off halfway in terms of people I need to interview. Which is ok, I think. Could have done a little better perhaps but it’s going in the right direction. Hats off to the social scientists who do this regularly – I’m rapidly learning a whole different kind of skill set that I guess you don’t really get to develop when you sit at a computer looking at a statistical model all day. Who knows what else I’ll learn, hopefully something about not spending all your money on frivolous items and buying multiple cups of tea for anyone who faintly looks like a fisherman….

Stay tuned for the next instalment!

2016 in pictures

To end the year I thought I’d challenge myself to pick my 12 favourite moments from 2016, as let’s face it it’s been a pretty mad year where it’s difficult to remember the good things that have happened. Plus, I think it’s good to review the year and remind myself what I’ve done and achieved, even if at times it may feel like I haven’t got much further with progressing towards completing ‘The Thesis’.

Last year I retold my PhD year through internet memes, and to be honest the story has been much the same this year. So this time instead I thought I would pick 12 of my favourite photos from the year, one for each month, and share them with you all.

Whilst 2016 has been a truly bizarre year where I have wanted to press the restart button multiple times, it’s comforting to know that I’ve had a lot of fun this year despite some of the ups and downs that have happened.

January

Ok, so I’m cheating here. This photo is definitely personal rather than fish/PhD related. BUT in my defence I took hardly any photos in January because I was writing my literature review the whole time. The only exciting thing that happened was a family holiday to Austria skiing, which was a welcome relief from writing and a good chance to get away for a bit!

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February 

Another somewhat quiet month of writing and putting together the beginnings of my interviews for my social fieldwork. February is one of my favourite months mostly because it has pancake day, i.e the best day of the year after birthday and christmas. This year I tried a marine themed pancake, which worked out great/badly depending on your perspective…

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March

March saw me return to the Cefas Endeavour for another research survey in the western English channel. I had a great time and it was fab to get out of the office after months of desk work. I discovered a new fish species I had never heard about before, which instantly made it into my top 3 favourite fish – the Couch’s bream. I took far too many photos on this trip and had a tough time deciding on one for this month. But I think this had to be it – the time I sang to a cod we’d just caught.

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April

A return to the office and lots of data analysis generated a yearning for sea life again. As such, my officemates obliged in some office fishing to help pass the time. Shout out to my office pals who always help to put a smile on my face.

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May

This month was a bit manic as I recall, with two training courses (GIS and social science methods), a workshop which I helped to organise, and a conference! No surprise I didn’t spend much time in Exeter. 10 of those days I was in Brest, France attending an ICES course and conference, where I got to meet some great people and hear some fantastic science, which all made it a very special week.

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June

June was spent mostly catching up with work and also trying to plan my trip to Brazil, which I found out I had been accepted to attend in late May. I did however manage to fit in a short weekend away to Ireland with some old school friends, where I had the chance to meet a very large fish.

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July

July saw me hitting the data analysis hard in an attempt to wrap some things up before heading to Brazil at the end of the month. I also got the opportunity to go out mackerel fishing (using handlines) with Aaron who is also part of the Sole of Discretion cooperative that I’ve been involved with. It was a great day and lovely to see such a sustainable fishery in operation.

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August

So this month has to be the best month of year. I got to go to the No.1 place on my bucket list – Brazil! A whole month traveling, meeting amazing people and seeing amazing places, topped off with a great summer school full of fisheries science at the end. Choosing one photo is far too hard!

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September

Back to reality this month, attempting to finish off my modelling work and catch up with work. A productive month however and also the chance to attend two fish festivals – FishStock in Brixham and the mussel festival in Exmouth. Both very yummy events!

Mussels in Exmouth

October

This month also saw me confined mostly to the office and to be honest, getting a bit stressed – pressure was on to complete analysis for my thesis chapter and get out interviewing! The weather was also lovely this month so I managed to go for a few cycle rides in the evening after work with friends to help recharge the batteries.

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November

Amidst the panic of thinking ‘where has this year gone?!’ I got out interviewing and had some trips to Brixham to start the next few chapters of my PhD. I love this part of my project and making it more ‘real world’ focused, so I’m excited for the months ahead. I also went to the lovely Clovelly herring festival, which was just as quaint and olde-worldy as you could imagine.

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December 

Wow, another year over! What a year. I’ve pinched myself on multiple occasions when I think about the cool stuff I got to do and the truly amazing and inspiring people I have met along the way. The last month saw me go to the British Ecological Society’s annual meeting, which never ceases to stop putting a smile on my face. Plus, I got to meet Daniel Pauly which was pretty awesome!

Meeting Daniel Pauly at the British Ecological Society!

So, that’s 2016 wrapped up! I’m excited for what 2017 will bring!

🙂

 

Third year fun and fishy festivals

Well it’s been a while since I wrote on here… In fact, I think my last post was about my trip to Brazil, which now feels like a lifetime ago!

The last few months have been generally been a mixture of work, some conferences, lots of writing and the sudden realisation I am now in my third year! Oh god, where did time go?! I came back from Brazil with a lot of motivation so I really tried to capitalise on it for as long as I could. I managed to get my modelling work almost completely wrapped up and done – YAY! – which has generated some interesting results which I will be sharing soon (I hope!). Towards the end of September I also attended an aquatic macroecology meeting in London which was really awesome and got to hear from the likes of William Cheung, Julia Blanchard and Miguel Araújo discussing research in this growing topic.

After a good month or so however, I fell into a bit of a rut and for the next few weeks I struggled to get a huge amount done. I think PhDs are always full of ups and downs, and sometimes when I get a bit stuck I feel that the best thing to do is to change tact. So that’s what I did, and so for a few weeks I got stuck into my interviews, piloting them and also researching Brixham more broadly so that in the new year I can hit the ground running and interview as many fishermen as possible! I’m really excited about starting this aspect of my research and putting it into ‘real world’ context, so we shall see how it goes! So far I’ve had fun with it so I’m looking forward to the new year.

Another thing that now as a third year PhD student I’ve become increasingly aware of is the need to get writing! The familiar joke that always goes round in academic circles of ‘shouldn’t you be writing?’ certainty rings very true these days. With that in mind I decided to take an early start to the Christmas holidays and go home and get writing! A two week ‘writing retreat’ later, with lots of cups of tea, no social interaction and some pony therapy in between, finally resulted in a completed draft chapter, which feels good! I would definitely recommend it to any fellow PhDers to just focus on one thing and write, I think it’s been really beneficial. It’s been nice to draw a line under something, even if it is the first of many drafts, and the best thing was that I managed to get it all done before the British Ecological Society’s annual meeting. Win! The next few days were then spent at the meeting in Liverpool presenting my work, catching up with colleagues and hearing from lots of cool science. They had two great marine sessions this year which was also good to see, and I also got to meet Daniel Pauly which was pretty great!

In between the data analysis, interviewing and writing these last few months I’ve also managed to go to not one but three fish festivals in and around Devon! I love how much fisheries are part of the culture down here in the south west – very different from my home town on the Wirral, and so I’ve been looking forward to going to these fish festivals for a while. I managed to convince my friends to come along too, and we were rewarded with delicious seafood and maritime merriment – what more could you want?!

The first we went to was the wonderful FishStock in Brixham – a big seafood festival that had a really great atmosphere and a fabulous fish market stall with loads of fish to buy and take home to cook (I got some red gurnard which was very yummy!). The next festival also in September was the Exmouth mussel festival. Those mussels were some of the tastiest I’ve had, so delicious and washed down with some Devon gin and tonic – even better! However, the best festival was yet to come – a pretty long road trip in mid November up to the north coast to the tiny fishing village of Clovelly. Such a cute little place! It happened to be the 10th anniversary of their annual Herring festival, celebrating the history of the village and the herring fishery.

There was mulled wine, cakes, fudge, live music and of course, herring! In so many ways – pickled, fried in oats, smoked, stargazy pie… So of course we tried it in every way! I think my favourite was when it was fried in oats. Very yummy indeed. There were also some great bands playing, including Dan Britton and Chris Conway who played a sobering but beautiful song version of a poem written about the great storm of 1838 in which 21 fishermen from Clovelly were lost at sea. Listening to it also made the work of the RNLI and the Fishermen’s Mission, for which donations were being collected at all of the festivals, even more poignant and a reminder of the risks fishermen still take today in order to catch the fish that ends up on our plates and at the local chippy.

And so that brings us up to this week, with just a few days to go until Christmas! I can’t believe that I’ve done another year of PhDing – time seems to go so fast and like the previous years it’s been a whirlwind of scientific discovery and adventure, ups and downs, and record breaking amounts of cups of tea. All I can say is bring on 2017!!

Mussels in Exmouth

Mussels in Exmouth

Plymouth trip for some interview piloting

Plymouth trip for some interview piloting

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Brixham day trip!

Brixham day trip!

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Clovelly herring festival!

Clovelly herring festival!

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Presenting some of my work at the BES conference

Presenting some of my work at the BES conference

Meeting Daniel Pauly at the British Ecological Society!

Meeting Daniel Pauly at the British Ecological Society!

Brazilian adventures

So this blog post is going to be fun to write given it’s all about the place I’ve just been to, which was Brazil! Pretty awesome right?! Sometimes I really have to pinch myself to believe that my PhD can offer me opportunities such as visiting the country I have had at the top of my bucket list since I was about 5 years old!

I was there for a whole month, 3 weeks of which I was lucky enough to go traveling and the other 8 days or so attending the awesome IMBER ClimEco summer school, which is held every 2 years at various exciting places around the world. The summer school was entitled ‘Towards more resilient oceans: Predicting and projecting future changes in the ocean and their impacts on human societies’, so pretty much right up my street! Needless to say I was excited to attend, and I had every reason to be as it was a fantastic week learning a range of topics and meeting some fabulous people.

In total there were around 60 students from 37 countries, which in itself was incredibly interesting getting to meet them all and share stories. The first day kicked off with a poster session in the evening which was a good chance to hear about everyone’s work and also discuss my own project and get some ideas! The majority of the week was spent having lectures on a range of topics from climate projections and uncertainty to modeling marine ecosystems, to fisheries economics, social science research methods and also some early career type lectures. The lecturers were all great, and it was pretty cool to hear from the likes of Beth Fulton, Rashid Sumaila, Laurent Bopp and Ingrid van Putten who all do some really exciting work.

There were also opportunities for more interactive and group work, with guidance from teachers Paul Suprenand, Maria Grazia Pennino and Christopher Cvitanovic who covered GAMs, Ecopath with EcoSim, some social science methods and also how to put together a research impact plan. We were also set a task during the week to try and develop a model using whatever software we wanted to model an aspect of any marine ecosystem/species. We split into groups and my group decided to try and model how fishermen would respond to spatial distribution changes in their target species as a result of climate change. With the help of Maria and another lecturer Priscila Lopes, we managed to get the GAM model up and running to predict future changes in summer flounder (a species found on the north east US coast and for which we had a good dataset to use). The next part of the project was a little trickier however in that we couldn’t quite get the NetLogo software to work (for which we wanted to create an individual based model to look at fishermen’s behaviour)…. We came up with a beautiful conceptual model but sadly couldn’t make it into reality in the space of a few hours!! Until next time hey….

It was a whirlwind of a course – covering so many different subjects and methodologies left our brains a bit full by the end of each day, but it wasn’t toooo bad given we could go for a swim in the sea at lunchtime and eat lovely Brazilian food in the evening! Plus we had a great day out mid-course to the beautiful Pipa beach, as well as to the world’s largest cashew nut tree… By the end of the course I was really sad to leave – I had a really brilliant time, and I particularly enjoyed meeting so many people who were all working on really cool marine-fishy things around the world. A huge shout out to Lisa who organised everything and all the lecturers for giving up their time to teach! It was great! Plus it has given me a big ounce of motivation, which I think has been very useful helping to get me back into office life here in Exeter!

Apart from the summer school, I also managed to go exploring around Brazil for 3ish weeks, which was simply amazing. Although I’ve been to quite a few places over the last 2 years with my PhD, I’ve never had more than 5 consecutive days off from doing work, and I have always taken my laptop with me everywhere to catch up on emails in the evening or do a little bit of work here and there. For this trip I decided I really wanted to just chill out and forget everything work related for a few weeks – not an opportunity I give myself much during my PhD and something to take advantage of before the heavy work starts for me later on this year! So, I left the laptop at home (I hired one for the course), turned off emails and completely switched off!

I would totally recommend any fellow PhDer to try and do this at some point if they can – take an extended time off work (longer than a week I’d say if possible), ditch the laptop and switch off! It was been really worthwhile for me at least – my batteries are re-charged, my mind refreshed and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into my work again! My models are finally up and running and I start my fieldwork in the next month or so, so things are getting a bit exciting!!

Until next month, here are some pictures from my trip of a lifetime… And also, a thanks to all the incredible people I met whilst I was there!

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Iguazu Falls – simply amazing

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Getting to see the olympic torch in Paraty!

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A beautiful beach somewhere on Ilha Grande

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No trip to Brazil would be complete without visiting this guy…

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Sugarloaf mountain!

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Some very weird fish at the market in Manaus – any ideas?!

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The amazing Amazon rainforest

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Good haul fishing – a range of piranhas to cook for dinner!

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The beach in Natal near to where our summer school was held – convenient for lunchtime swimming!

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Day trip to Pipa beach

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My lovely group!

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See, I did do some work…
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Group pic at Pipa beach

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The whole group!

Mackerel fishing!

Just a short post this time as I am off to Brazil tomorrow for a month!

Work has been picking up a lot recently – I’ve been busy getting my modeling work underway and writing a lot of R scripts! I did however manage to get out of the office the other day for another fishing trip, which was really nice given I haven’t been out on a boat since March. I was out this time with another fisherman who is part of the Sole of Discretion project I’ve been involved with, which is a new, ethical fish business, structured as a Community Interest Company and owned by fishers. The money made is put back into the fishing community, mostly within Plymouth where SOD is based. The fish is then delivered to restaurants or with Riverford vegetable boxes, or you can even buy it straight from the dock in Plymouth!

I think it’s a great initiative, and it’s been lovely to see it grow over the past few months and get off the ground. The best part for me however has been having the opportunity to go out on some of the boats to see how the fish is caught, handled and processed. I’ve been collecting some information on aspects of bycatch, fish welfare and wider environmental impact and we are hoping this work can be used to help support the work of SOD as well as inform some of our research back at Exeter.

On Friday I went out with Aaron on his boat ‘Happy Days’ for a spot of mackerel fishing. We had a reasonable start time and were out for most of the day off Plymouth and Whitsand Bay, handlining on his 10m boat. The gear was set up on the boat with two automated lines set with hooks, which could be set to drop to depths which we specified. How could we tell where the fish were? Interestingly, I was surprised to find just how much Aaron is reliant on watching for birds and seeing if they were diving into the water or not. We were constantly on the lookout for them, and as soon as we saw a mob of them we would speed off to try and catch the fish they were after! We could also check the fish were there by looking at the ‘fish finder’ screen, which uses sonar to pick up any signs of fish below the surface.

Once we’d decided where to fish, it was just a case of letting the gear down and then reeling it back in (this was automated which made life a little easier!). You could feel the fish on the line when it was in the water and that helped give an indication of when to bring the line up. Aaron and his crew taught me how to feel for the different species on the line – mackerel are quite bouncy and flitter around in the water. We got a few whiting on some of the hooks too due to them being at similar depths to the mackerel. We weren’t really after them, but it was quite an easy case of picking them off and letting them swim away.

By the end of the day we’d managed to get quite few boxes of mackerel which Aaron was happy with, along with a few whiting as well. Overall, I had a great time out and it was really lovely to witness such a low impact fishing trip. Handlining really does seem to be extremely sustainable and it was great to see how ‘clean’ the gear was (i.e. very little bycatch and impact on the environment). And, possibly the best bit of the whole trip, we saw a pilot whale!!! I was very excited.

Thank you Aaron for letting me aboard!