Maiken Bjorkan’s Blog: The Red Shrimp LTMP – Getting to Know the Fishers’ Perspective

From November 2013 until March 2014, Maiken, a social anthropologist based in Norway, will be living and working in Spain. Working with fishermen and scientists involved in the Red Shrimp case study, Maiken will be studying how management plans are implemented from a “people perspective”. You can read all her blog posts here.

The second week of January the fishers of Palamos started their closed season as described in their LTMP. This means that the red shrimp fishers will be on land, and more available for my questions – in theory at least. Conrad warned me before going that even if they were not fishing the majority would still be occupied with all the stuff they don’t have time for when they fish. We arrived two days before the closed season started just to settle in and plan the week with Conrad.

Preparing interviews

Those that participated at the social science workshop in Italy will know that there are different types of interview: questionnaires, structured interviews, semi-structured interviews and open-ended interviews, to mention the most common ones. Mainly, I use semi-structured interviews since I find them the most useful to get both the information I am interested in and also to allow the informant to add what he/she is interested in. Often, the most important information can come from this, as it allows for a more dynamic interaction and new issues to arise. Any type of interview requires careful planning, i.e., with regards to what questions to ask, what wording to use and making sure it is not too long. Accordingly, one needs to know the context and other scientific studies from the area, and if it is possible to have a test run – a pilot interview – that is always helpful.

I did my pilot interview with Conrad on his vessel and that was very useful. I came prepared with my set of questions, and we soon found some that were irrelevant and some Mexican terms that are quite different in Spain. Also, it was too long, about 50 minutes, and my target was 30-45 minutes. The talkative ones, who often turns into key informants, will typically use about an hour any way, in my experience.

Doing interviews: Snowballing on the pier

When doing interviews for WP4 (see here for more info), we had very little time and we had to make our fieldwork as efficient as possible and in most cases we could depend on the case study crew to make interview appointments. Since this is a longer fieldwork, it was nice to have the time to just let things ‘snowball’ and for that to take me to my interview objects. The president of the Cofradia and Conrad had prepared the fishers for being “hassled” by me, which saved me some time and gave me their goodwill. While most of the fishers were positive, it was clear that they had a lot to do preparing for the next open season, so it was not easy to pin down actual interview appointments. Since I don’t know the fishers and their vessels, I also approached a lot of fishers that are not part of the LTMP. This was time consuming, but it was useful because I also wanted to talk to them and get their take on the management plan.

In some cases, the interviews took place onboard the vessels, and in others in the cofradia offices. All interviews where recorded (Note: nowadays one can even use the mobile phone for this – I think that was great, as it is always with me anyway and also because it’s a natural thing to have on the table) and I also took notes during the interviews (Note: I always take notes and rely mostly on these. Transcribing interviews takes a lot of time and I use them to go back to when I need to check something or when paraphrasing).

What did I ask and what did they say about the LTMP?

In brief, I asked questions related to 1) why they decided to make a LTMP; 2) how they have found the process; 3) their cooperation with scientists, and 4) scientific knowledge and fishers’ experience-based knowledge.

Now, I have to transfer the interviews from paper notes to Word and listen to all the interviews over again. Then, I have to analyze my data in light of theory. Even if I haven’t gotten through all this yet, I still have some general findings I can share with you – off the top of my head.

Why a LTMP: All of the fishers said that since they only target shrimp and the shrimp was overexploited, it was a questions of “change or disappear”.

About the process: All the fishers said that the process has been inclusive and democratic – it is important to keep in mind that they are well organized and used to decision-making through the cofradia institution.

Relationship with scientists: As in many of the GAP2 case studies, these fishers have had a very good relationship with science over many years. I think this has been crucial for making the plan.

Science and experience-based knowledge: While this may be a “power conflict” sometimes and at some places (whose knowledge is most important kind of issue, see i.e., Tim Grays PhD: and my PhD: tp://, the fishers here are all very clear: we know how to fish and scientists know biology.

Off I go to analyze the data!


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