As I mentioned in my last post, I visited several of the Galway, Mayo and Cork Islands during the months of January and April this year. The next three blog posts will look at each of these island groups, and the issues I heard about that face the small-scale fishing communities there. This one focuses on the Galway islands of Inis Oírr, Inis Meáin and Inishbofin (I haven’t made it to Inis Mór yet but hope to visit and talk to people there before the end of this year). A common theme across all the island groups (Donegal, Galway, Mayo and Cork) is that small-scale fishing doesn’t present an attractive career choice to the younger generation on the islands – it’s prohibitively expensive to buy a boat with licence and gear, and there is no guarantee of a steady income to pay off that debt. In the Galway islands, many of the younger fishermen have left fishing for the more stable work crewing one of the island ferries, which have become increasingly busy with the rise in tourism in this island group over the years. There are only a handful of fishing boats left on the Galway islands, and most of these boats fish part-time. On Inishbofin, three boats fish the full fishing season from April to the end of October and on Inis Oírr, only one boat fishes for the full season. The rest of the boats fish for two or three months during the summer.
It’s hard to believe my last blog post was published close to the start of this year and now the year is already drawing to a close. Such a lot has happened, that it has taken me some time to gather all the threads together and distill them into coherent blog posts. Since my last post about the Donegal islands, I have visited many of the islands in the Galway, Mayo and Cork island groups, as you’ll have seen if you’ve been following @belongingtosea on Twitter. I wrote a little about the qualitative, participatory research process in one of my previous posts. I didn’t mention how overwhelming it can be when I spend almost a month doing fieldwork, as I did in April. It was an incredibly rich month, travelling from island to island (mostly via the mainland as I found out there’s virtually no interisland transport unless you’re a tourist visiting the Galway islands in the summer – or unless you manage to hitch a lift on a fishing boat with a football team (thank you Clare Island football team)). It was also exhausting, in a good way. I met and listened to so many people on the islands, a mark of how generous people are at giving me their time and providing me with hospitality.
My first field trip for this project was a short 3 day visit to the Donegal Islands last November. It was a bumpy start as the small plane from Dublin to Donegal took off and landed in fairly windy conditions at Carrickfinn Airport. A fisherman I already knew from a previous research project had arranged meetings with some of Donegal Islands fishermen during my stay. As a researcher who spends a lot of time talking and listening to people in small coastal communities, I am always hugely appreciative of the time people give me. My time is usually funded. Most of the time, theirs is not. Before I arrived, the fishermen asked my contact “What does she want to talk to us about?”. “I don’t really know”, he said, “and to be honest with you, I don’t think she really knows at this stage either”. It’s always difficult to convey to people what I want to do in this initial stage of the research – open listening is not something we’re used to, and a researcher is supposed to have questions she wants answered. Even though I’ve been doing this kind of research for more than 10 years now, I’m still nervous about these initial meetings. What if they don’t have anything to say to me? At the same time, experience tells me that it doesn’t take long for people to find the stories they want to tell me. I start from there. (more…)
CO-SUSTAIN is a two year research project (October 2018-October 2020) funded by the EU H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and hosted by the Trinity Centre for Environmental Humanities in the School of Histories and Humanities, Trinity College Dublin.
This new research project is about human-environment relationships. I’m exploring this broad theme within the context of small-scale fisheries in the Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Cork island groups off the west coast of Ireland. I’ll be working closely with IIMRO, the Irish Islands Marine Resources Organisation, which represents many of the small-scale fishers on these islands. I’m a marine social scientist. In the broadest terms, I study the relationships between people and the sea. I have been working with island fishing communities (mainly in Scotland) since 2010. I’m a qualitative social scientist which means I look for rich detail rather than trying to quantify issues. If there’s a conflict, I probably won’t be able to tell you how many people are for and how many are against something, but I’ll be able to tell you about the stories underlying the conflict, where they may have come from and how they might be helping or hindering ways forward.