One Fish Foundation Intern Jennifer Halstead is a senior at the University of New Hampshire. She has been instrumental with several One Fish projects, including the coordination of the recent Webinar co-hosted by One Fish Foundation and Local Catch, Fisheries Management: Best Available Science May Not Be Good Enough. Below is her take on the Webinar from the perspective of a college student, and why we should include college students in these discussions more frequently. And she’s right. Why wouldn’t we want to empower future leading researchers, fishermen and policy makers with a broader perspective and a voice?
By Jennifer Halstead
I had to drive to a neighboring town to run some errands immediately following the webinar, and I had a million thoughts swimming around in my head. So, I did what any millennial would do, and I used my smart phone to take notes for me, setting it to record as I drove.
Listening to the recording later, I realized some critical points. First, I was extremely fired up and passionate about the issues, and even a little angry about some of them. Second, I recognized through this webinar that the scientists, fishermen, and others taking part in the conversation represented a broad range of backgrounds and viewpoints, but were united on one theme: that the current fisheries management model doesn’t work for this extremely dynamic, and rapidly changing ecosystem.
Being a college student in marine sciences is exhilarating and intimidating. We’re presented with myriad challenges and questions, and rarely presented with solutions. We’re kind of left in limbo: We have a strong knowledge base, but a wide-open area to apply it, and we’re walking into a field of open-ended questions that have been asked for decades.
The curriculum of marine sciences now has a large portion of time allocated to climate change-related topics and challenges. As students, we’re presented with climate related disasters in all our classes. Not only is this depressing, but the lack of tangible solutions can take away our hope for our future in minutes. Being able to be part of an active discussion about how to change that as part of this Webinar put the last four years of me hearing about these unsolvable problems into a different perspective. I know we need change, because that’s what I’ve paid tuition to learn. An entirely different story starts when I hear other people talking about change, however. Suddenly, there’s a light ahead, collaboration forms, and solutions start to appear to all of those previously unsolvable problems.
I was emboldened by hearing fishermen and scientists talk about how different, fast-changing dynamics throughout the Gulf of Maine necessitate a different data approach: one that is more localized. Hearing them talk about a solution motivated me to keep moving forward and not feel as overwhelmed by the issues. We as college students will listen and take heart when authoritative voices such as fishermen, council members and scientists uniformly agree on the need for change and discuss possible solutions. Hopefully, these credible voices will resonate with the larger community.
To move forward, we need to analyze the current model and determine what the problems are that are highest in priority to address. In addition to this, we need to keep the conversation going, and keep working toward common goals.
The current data collection model is a One-Size-Fits-All model, but the consensus of the discussion was that one size does not fit all. Therefore, the current model is not doing its job and needs to change. The Gulf of Maine is an extremely dynamic region, with highly productive areas, multiple spawning areas and freshwater inputs. Unfortunately, it is feeling climate change impacts at an alarming rate. In a system with this many moving parts, we should not be employing a model that is rigid. Instead of adjusting this model, however, it may be easier to start with new ideas. Relying on data from random trawl surveys that occurred three years ago is not a solid foundation to build a management plan on.
So, let’s change the way we collect data. Fishermen are out on the water every day in different areas, looking for different target species and making different observations. Why not make their observations available for scientists to use, creating an up-to-date, usable set of data? Up-to-date data means that the moving and fluctuating parts of the system can be more accurately accounted for, and we can develop more accurate and successful management plans more quickly. Collaboration between fishermen and scientists when it comes to collection of data and observations is important. It helps refine the current model and bring the sides together while doing it.
A large part of creating change and addressing these problems exists in the need to have active discussions. Everyone sitting at the table, simply discussing the challenges, could lead to change. Different perspectives bring different ideas, and then solutions can start to form. College students taking part in such discussions and offering their perspectives could be integral to the formation of such solutions. That involvement would also likely encourage them (as it has with me) to dive deeper into the issues and help find solutions, rather than be overwhelmed with fear and gloom.
Along with this, it is imperative that all stakeholders be involved in these discussions. If we want to use data that fishermen collect, for example, we need to make sure they’re on board with the idea, and we need to see how much they’re willing to do to create a better system. If too much is put on the fishermen’s plates, or on the plates of any other group for that matter, the new method will work as effectively as the current one. It won’t.
Jennifer Halstead is a senior at University of New Hampshire studying marine biology, and intern for One Fish Foundation.
Top Photo: Jennifer extracts the otoliths (ear bones) of a bluefin tuna to determine its age.