F R O M T H E C R O W E ’ S N E S T
The Path to Correct Answers
In the call for “good” science in assessing the condition of fisheries there has not been a means of evaluating that science. Fishermen and scientists do not speak the same languages. There are fishermen who are in fact scientists, but the scientists who analyze fisheries data speak a language even some other scientists do not speak.The result is fishermen are in no position to be able to trump what the science says because the ball just is never in their court. Fishermen may be sensing from three decades of experience that the scientist’s data could be flawed, but the scientists experience comes from decades of abstractions. Same subject, maybe similar facts, both different languages, but the science holds the trump card.
Frustrated fishermen have left many a meeting feeling dismissed and defeated over this disparity. With federal whale regulations about to change vertical lines the way they had changed ground lines, lobster fishermen faced a major economic obstacle in a fishery they helped make one of the best managed in the world.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) organized an effort to put together the people, raise the money, and hire the scientists to assess the interaction of Gulf of Maine whales and lobster fishing gear. They used a quality and quantity of data that surpassed that of the National Fisheries Service (NMFS) and had a model built that could process this data. The result was a broader, more in depth and comprehensive picture of the risks to whales in the Gulf of Maine, and put a number on the interaction of fishermen with whales.
The news that the preliminary results from this sophisticated computer model that speaks the language of science agreed with what fishermen had been saying for years is very important for lobstermen and other fishermen. The MLA’s effort in getting fishermen not only good science, but better science has resulted in giving them a voice. The MLA model not only speaks science, it speaks a more informed science than the NMFS model that pointed to lobstermen as the culprits in the right whale’s demise.
This MLA effort has also brought together fishermen and scientists. They have both learned something about how the other is operating. It could well be the beginning of the path finding the correct answers to fishery problems.