The four key rules of fisheries politics / by Francisco Blaha

I have only done once work on recreational fisheries, this was over 13 years ago here in NZ… and it was a pretty toxic experience. Hence, I don't take sides in this (I think useless) fisheries debate… when both sides argue, it seems to me that they are very selective in cherry-picking their arguments. For me in fisheries, we all have to do better… end of story.

I'm a keen spear-fisher my self, but once I a while I don't mind burning lots of fuel to catch a few fish.

I'm a keen spear-fisher my self, but once I a while I don't mind burning lots of fuel to catch a few fish.

So when I read this paper in “Fisheries Research” but written by a member of the Canadian Sport Fishing Advisory Board, I was intrigued. Gerry Kristianson resumes the tone of his article quite well in the abstract:

Advocates for recreational fishing, public servants charged with fisheries management, and scientists and other experts who provide objective advice, all need to understand the nature and dimensions of fisheries politics. Accusing someone of “playing politics” usually is intended as a criticism, even an insult. But politics is the social process by which differences are expressed and resolved. If you don’t have differences, then you don’t have politics. A political situation, whether it is in a family, the workplace, government administration or a contest for public office is the process through which differences are discussed and settled. Fisheries politics takes place at many levels. It determines the resources available to manage fisheries and understand their impacts. It defines the relationship between conservation and extraction. It determines the allocation of harvest between competing interests. It sets the international rules between nations for the conservation and sharing of migratory and straddling stocks. Underlying these political relationships are rules and norms of political behaviour that can be learned and practised by those who wish to maximize their influence over how fisheries are managed and practised.

And while aiming to the industry vs recreational debate, his conclusion of four key rules of fisheries politics are of much wider applicability, and I wish people from the NZ recreational lobby all the way to the RFMOS were to remember them. I’ll resume my take-home messages but read the original here.

The four key rules of fisheries politics:

The resource must come first
Whether the discussion is domestic or international, my first rule of effective fisheries politics is to remember that the resource must always come first. The debate must be about ensuring sustainable fish stocks, not arguing about who gets to harvest the last fish. Anglers, like all other harvesters, must be conscientious participants in the collection of catch data so that there can be effective stock assessment.
Recreational catch statistics must pass the “red face” test as must an accurate understanding of the impact of angler encounters on fish that are not retained. Government fisheries managers, competing harvesters, and other interested parties must be satisfied with the accuracy of recreational numbers. While there will be differences in the way data is collected about the impact of hundreds of thousands of individual anglers as distinct from much smaller numbers of commercial vessels, there must be trust in the numbers.
Science is important – but must be understandable
A second rule of effective fisheries politics is to remember that while knowledge is essential to good management, the basis of scientific advice must be clear, understandable and relevant. Harvesters have a right to demand that jargon is kept to a minimum. It helps, when confronted by yet another set of numbers whose accuracy is being justified because the Bayesian statistical approach was applied, to remind the speaker that after his death in 1761, the Reverend Thomas Bayes’ comments on solving the problem of inverse probability were used as the basis for proving the existence of God! It also needs to be said that anglers can and should participate directly in science through things like DNA collection and the maintenance of detailed catch logbooks.
Politics is about people: civility is key
Politics is a human social process. Since its purpose is the resolution of differences between people it should not be surprising that civility is a key component. Treating others as you expect to be treated seems a simple maxim, yet frequently forgotten when politics devolves into ideological position-taking or when commonly held prejudices or preconceptions result in the pejorative description of other participants.
Demonizing other groups of harvesters isn’t conducive to reaching intersectoral consensus on fisheries management. Demeaning the role of conscientious public servants by disparaging them as “bureaucrats” isn’t likely to earn their trust or support. I choose to call myself a “Fisheries Politician” as a way of making clear to elected officials that I think politics is a noble calling and admire those who have chosen to put themselves forward for election and thereby are best able to claim they represent the public interest. It is their role to adjudicate between those of us who in a plural society have both a right and an obligation to advance our private interests through reasoned civil discourse.
Murphy is always around
Finally, it needs to be understood that politics, as a human social activity, is subject to circumstances that cannot always be controlled or predicted. The adage frequently cited as “Murphy’s Law” applies. If things can go wrong they usually will. An important lesson for anyone attempting to organize harvesters as part of a campaign to influence fisheries management decisions is that many of the potential participants would rather be fishing!
Now my brother Alex Blaha, he really is the ultimate recreational fisherman...

Now my brother Alex Blaha, he really is the ultimate recreational fisherman...