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Fishermen are the original marine conservationists

No one believes fishermen.

FEK or fishermen's Ecocolgical knowledge.....

"is local knowledge concerning interannual, seasonal, lunar, diet and food-related variations in the behavior and movements of marine fishes and mammals […]. Such knowledge is passed from generation to generation of fishers and influences the nature, timing, and location of their fishing” according to Robert E Johannes

Indeed , "Ignore Fishers' Knowledge and Miss the Boat." Fish and Fisheries 1: 257-271.

FEK arrives through my door with a fisherman turning the conversation seamlessly from the latest Marine Protected Area proposal to his observations that,

'whit the crab dae is go oot in the winter an come back in the summir - that's jist whit they dae..'


'yi git more destruction o stock fae wan big easterly than any amount of effort - we saa that the ither year..'

'thur wis rocks shifted that sat on that beach aal me life an then wis moved in that gale..'

'th haddocks is back, no see that fir money a year..'

We have been working hard to have FEK credited and used to inform the work that scientists here do. The driver for the fisheries science we take forward is delivered that way. The fishermen see what is happening, they tell me, and I scout about for funds to set up a project with well attuned scientists who 'get it' and who ensure the methodology and scientific protocols are robust. The scientists respect, listen to and talk with our fishermen as equals.

The mistake of not crediting and using FEK are being born out in the big cod and haddock fisheries now where the complications of the EU quota distribution system along with the inability of the more inflexible scientific bodies to properly accept the real-time 'at sea' observations of fishermen are leading to massive problems.

The marine environment is dynamic, it is not a controlled lab situation. The parameters are unquantifiable, and the events coming from left-field add more confusion; sea water temperature change, warm water fish moving north, explosions of predator stocks, the movement of invasive species with global shipping.

Among all that you might think, what hope for fisheries management and scientific data of any kind? But that is exactly why real time fishermen's ecological knowledge is so important.

The inhabitants of ivory towers don’t like the peasants crawling up the ivy and climbing in the windows.

Reticence of acceptance of any knowledge that is not pure and academic is tightly ingrained in a society that now fights its battles increasingly on the evidential grounds of that which can be measured. The unmeasurable may be just as important or even more so but because it is less easy to deal with it becomes easier to discount.

Does no one believe fishermen because they don’t have enough 'O' levels?

In most cases yes.

There is a class prejudice to validating the observations of those whose knowledge is experiential, vernacular, socially longitudinal and comes from the 'old world' of the physical working communities. This knowledge is presented differently and comes from out-with any type of formal education system or academia.

But it is perfectly possible for fishermen to be trained to record data and most have an eager curiosity about the marine environment.

In our scallop research a 16 year old young fisherman ably and accurately measured, and recorded scallops at sea on board a rolling vessel.

As the coastal communities rapidly fall under the suffocating veneer of gentrification, fishermen, their knowledge and their own value within their indigenous areas is becoming more vulnerable. Those with multiple ‘O’ level or degree-filled confidence of articulation, breenging into a fishing community, failing to listen or watch and pontificating from the perspective of a few leisure outings in fine weather need to take stock.

The last thing we should want is fishermen clamming up when their knowledge is so vital to the future of the marine environment.

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