Human Dimensions of Coastal Fisheries
Artisanal fishers often maintain a large and thorough, if unrecorded, understanding of the physical oceanography and fisheries ecology of the region in which they work. This traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) has been used by scientists to help narrow the timing and focus of their ecological studies while maximizing their research efforts (e.g. Johannes 1978). TEK can be used to understand how fisheries work at ecosystem scales, and can provide critical information in the design of effective marine reserve networks. Ultimately, the collection and synthesis of this information can, if done appropriately, help bring fishers into functional dialogues about marine resources conservation. Such partnerships between fishers and resource managers is seen as a vital component in reducing overfishing and developing truly sustainable fisheries from both an ecological and economic perspective.
Following the principles above, Dr. Heyman conducted interviews of artisanal fishers throughout the Gulf of Honduras, a tri-national basin covering 10,000 km2. Combining oceanographic and biological studies with semi-quantitative interviews with artisanal fishers throughout the region, he has helped to illustrate the functional ecology, fisheries economics, and conservation priorities for the basin in a series of three publications entitled The Voice of the Fishermen. As a result of Dr. Heyman's efforts, there have been an increase in the active participation of fishers in the conservation process - new policies, legislation, and marine reserves have emerged with the support of local fishers in all three countries.
The Marine & Coastal Geography Group at Texas A&M University plans to expand the use of the Voice of the Fishermen concept through the supervision of graduate student projects in St. Croix (Liam Carr), the Texas Gulf Coast (William Smith) and the Gulf of Honduras (Pablo Granados-Dieseldorff) and elsewhere in the eastern Caribbean.
Finally, we have found that “South-South” exchanges have been extremely valuable in building conservation awareness and participation within the fishing community. Exchanges have been organized between, for example, fishers of southern Belize and Jamaica. The Belizean fishers were terrified by the potential consequences of overfishing that they observed in Jamaican waters, while the Jamaican fishers were inspired by the possibilities they witnessed at successful marine reserves: reefs and fishing grounds teeming with fish, and the potential that marine ecotourism carries as an economically attractive alternative to working as a fisher. We have several additional exchanges planned, with pending funding in three proposals, and hope to document the value of these experiences as to their effects on governance, comprehension of scarcity and the functional participation of fishers in the conservation process. The Marine & Coastal Geography Group remains committed to encouraging further educational exchanges and the spread of locally-relevant fisheries conservation and management strategies throughout the Caribbean region.