Fishers have been central to the success of the MINOUW project: without their input we would not have been able to identify practical, effective solutions that can be used in fisheries throughout the Mediterranean.
A project built on cooperation
From the very beginning of the MINOUW project we knew that to have a real chance of success - to identify practical, effective solutions for reducing discards - securing the contribution and cooperation of fishers would be key.
We knew fishers are often reluctant to work with scientists, or anyone they see as part of efforts to regulate their activity, as ideas and regulations have often been imposed on them without consultation. On our part, we realised the scientific community had often overlooked the need to work on equal terms with fishers, and did not fully understand the many issues they face.
“To some, we fishermen were seen as uncooperative, and for the fishermen the scientists has truths they didn’t share with us.”
Eusebi Esglea, Catalonia, Spain.
We realised we would need to win the trust of the fishers. With this goal in mind we designed the project so that they were involved at every level; we would adopt a participatory approach where fishers, scientists and policymakers worked together on an equal footing. Most importantly we listened to what they had to tell us; whether about the problems they would face implementing the Landing Obligation, or which of our proposed solutions they believed would be the most practical and affordable to implement.
Working together brings better results
During the project there were three main ways we worked with fishers. Firstly to identify possible solutions, secondly to test these solutions, and finally to promote and share these solutions with other fishers in the region.
To begin with we ran a series of workshops with fishers, scientists, and other stakeholders to look at the problem, identify possible solutions and decide which of these we should test. The fisher’s contributions in these meetings was invaluable - they proposed several effective techniques, most of which were already in use across the Mediterranean: the addition of a guard net or ‘selvedge’ in trammel net fishing, the use of a grid system for dredge fishing, or a variation on the slipping method.
These methods were then evaluated by the scientists involved in the project to assess their effectiveness, and provide scientific evidence of their impact. The full cooperation of the fishers was essential to carry out these tests successfully.
One of the many valuable lessons we learned from our cooperative approach was that fishers listen to and respect each other. You can provide scientific evidence to support one solution or another, but they will be far more likely to adopt a solution (or consider it) when one of their peers can tell them about their own success using the technique.
Therefore, once we had identified successful solutions, we brought fishers together from across the mediterranean to share their knowledge and experience of using these techniques. In Portugal, Norway and Italy, it was clear these peer-to-peer exchanges were one of the most effective tools to help spread knowledge between fisheries, as the fishers were able to hear first hand how adapted netting or practices could benefit them directly.
“For me the Norwegian exchange was a great experience… it made me understand that in the future we could use (the grid technique) here too.”
Roberto Ingargiola, Fisherman, Sicily
Fishers are the key to change
Ultimately, we believe the MINOUW project has shown how essential it is to work with fishers if you want to effect a change in their behaviour, and that cooperating closely with them has been key to our success. You cannot dictate solutions: you must fully involve fishers and make them key stakeholders in the process, and ultimately advocates for the changes and solutions you want to see adopted. They know the sea better than anyone, and it is only with their cooperation and action that we can ensure sustainable fisheries for future generations.