Participatory sampling

Tool authored by: Saša Raicevich and Marloes Kraan

Tool Description

Participatory sampling is a participatory process aimed at establishing joint activities between fishers and stakeholders for the collection of samples or data at sea. Such activity is established within a participatory research framework, that is a prerequisite for its enforcement. In this sense, participatory sampling relies on the joint definition of the objectives of the sampling activities and on common preparatory work that identifies the methods to be applied, the respective role of fishers and scientists, the available resources, and any practical details.

Within participatory sampling fishers and scientists jointly work together for the collection of data (Mangi et al., 2013). This approach can be applied in different settings, for instance with scientists joining commercial fishing trips on board of fishing vessels, or fishers and scientists carrying out experimental trials on board of fishing vessels or research vessels. By working together, participatory sampling allows the share of experience, the building of mutual trust, the establishment of personal relationships, and the empowerment of both fishers and scientists through a better understanding of the respective knowledge base and skills (Jonhson and van Densen, 2007).

Moreover, through the joint discussion and interpretation of data, it allows a common knowledge base to be built and new data made available, the value of which is recognized by both groups, having been jointly collected. In turn, this increases the credibility, legitimacy saliency of science produced as a support for fisheries management.

Expected Outcomes 

The outcome of participatory sampling goes well beyond the “simple” collection of data and samples through the direct collaboration between fishers and scientists. Indeed, participatory sampling entails the joint definition of sampling objectives and methodologies, the assessment of data quality and their joint interpretation.

What is needed

Beyond the establishment of a participatory research context, technical skills on methodologies for data collection and analyses are needed along with empirical knowledge on the applicability of self-sampling methods. All tools for data/samples collection must be available, as well as methods for data/samples analysis. Participants involved in participatory sampling must have the willingness to work together and exchange knowledge, in a respectful and positive approach.

How it works

  • Establishing the participatory process. It is necessary first to establish a group including both scientists and fishers, in order to define a common goal and the set of data/samples to be collected.
  • Defining the sampling objectives and methodologies. Once the group has defined a common goal, it is necessary to define the methodologies and approachfor samples/data collection. In this context it is necessary to define all the activities together, and provide fishers with the skills necessary to understand the rationale of the activity and allow their direct contribution to sampling. Moreover in this phase fishers can contribute to the definition of the sampling scheme and location, according to their experience-based knowledge (EBK).
  • Working together. The core of participatory sampling is joint work at sea. This implies scientists and fishers working together, applying the methodologies jointly defined at sea. In this context, fishers can contribute not only with their fishing skills (e.g. shooting the nets, sorting the catches) but also collecting the data, for instance they could help in the estimation of catch weight, abundance and length frequency distribution.
  • Joint analysis and interpretation of data. Participatory sampling activities should end up with a common analysis and interpretation of data. In practice, scientists could make an initial analysis of data and present this to fishers, who could contribute to their interpretation but also suggest other analyses. This process is important since it allows the construction of common new knowledge.


  • Successful participatory sampling needs a participatory research setting to be first established.
  • All participants must agree on the usage of data and the process to access them before starting the activities.
  • It is advisable to discuss some of the dilemmas of cooperative research on the onset, such as that the outcomes of the sampling are not known (yet neutral) and will get meaning (become value laden) in the policy domain. In some cases outcomes might be seen as negative in the short term for fishers.
  • Participatory sampling is not just benefiting from fishers hospitality to take samples on board, but implies their direct involvement in the process of data collection and interpretation.
  • Mutual learning events could be very beneficial for the setting of methodologies, and scientists should be open minded in discussing (and revising, where needed) their methodologies according to fishers suggestions.
  • Participatory sampling could be very intensive and time consuming: providing feedback to fishers and finding occasions to discuss ongoing activities will allow participation to be maintained over time.
  • Scientists should be aware that in some cases the sampling takes place alongside the fishing activity. The less the sampling gets in the way of the fishing the better. Also it is nice to help the fishermen with processing their catch or otherwise whilst on board and not having to do other work.

Examples from GAP2 and beyond

Within GAP2, several case studies have showed the relevance of the joint field work between fishers and researchers.

For instance, in Italy, fishers were involved in the setting of sampling activities establishing a trawl survey that was carried out in the Veneto Region administrative waters from 2012 to 2014. Fishers were actively involved in the definition of sampling stations, contributing with their experience to select areas suitable for trawling. Moreover their contribution was fundamental to plan fishing activities (3 days each survey) and to let their fishing vessels be available for sampling, also modifying the cod-end to allow small-size nets to be used during the experimental survey. During the trawl survey, scientists and fishers worked together in the data collection, from the sorting of the species in the catches, to the weighting of species, and the collection of length frequency distribution data. Fishers were also involved in data interpretation, since scientists presented them the data to ask them for feedback.

Fishers contribution was thus embedded into the interpretation of data, that were later presented to the fishing industry and stakeholders in public meetings (more at:

What people say about this tool

“This is the first time I noticed how many species can be caught in fishing. I am used to look only at the target species, not considering anything else. But thanks to these experimental activities, since we need to collect all the fish species, I have a different understanding of the number of species at sea” (Elio Dall’acqua, Italian fisher).

“I believe these data are very useful, we collected them. I noticed how scientists can work hard at sea. In the past I thought they could only spend time in the office, at their PC. Congratulation for all this joint work, I was impressed” (William Perini, Italian fisher)

“Working together is a key to learn together and establish mutual trust. Without being on board and working hard, we would have been two different entities. Without fishers’ contribution, it would have not be possible to carry out this survey so successfully. I think all of us learnt a lot from each other” (Otello Giovanardi, Italian Scientist)

References and resources

Johnson, T. R. & van Densen, W. L. T. (2007). The benefits and organization of cooperative research for fisheries management. ICES Journal of Marine Science 64, 834–840. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsm014

Mangi S.C., Dolder P.J., Catchpole T.L., Rodmel D., de Rozarieux N. (2013).

Approaches to fully documented fisheries: practical issues and stakeholder perceptions. Fih and Fisheries, DOI: 10.1111/faf.12065

Web resources

Visual references and resources