Collaborative Sustainable Innovation

co-designing small-scale fisheries governance approaches

Thinking about Ireland’s National Marine Planning Framework through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During these unprecedented times, we are being forced to reflect on the values that are needed to underpin the kind of society we want to live in, and the inadequacies of the current status quo. In Ireland, in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, the values that come consistently to the fore include solidarity, equity, empathy and care for fellow citizens. The big picture questions that we are currently reflecting on are not limited to our economy and healthcare system. They are permeating every single aspect of our lives. These reflections are therefore directly relevant to the framework we choose to manage our marine environment.

For the past two years, the Irish Government has been developing a national marine planning framework, led by the Marine Planning Policy and Development Division in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. A public consultation on the draft National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) finally closed on 30 April 2020, two months later than originally anticipated. Delays were caused first by the General Election in early February, and subsequently by the COVID-19 pandemic. In my submission to the policy consultation on behalf of the Trinity Centre for Environmental Humanities, I reflected on the national marine planning process in the unexpected context of a global pandemic.

Adapted front page of the National Marine Planning Framework Consultation Draft.

The Mayo Islands

They are special places, islands. People don’t know it until you visit them. It’s not all about numbers or population…. It’s the least isolated place I’ve ever been”, said a resident incomer to one of the Mayo islands to me, a few weeks before I visited them. I was intrigued, given that the islands of Inishturk and Clare Island lie about an hour’s (often choppy) ferry ride off the mainland, with tiny populations of between 40-60 (Inishturk) and approximately 150 (Clare Island). Whenever I ask about island populations and the response is a range, rather than a figure, I know that it is probably because there is no secondary school on the island, as is the case in Clare Island and Inishturk. The populations increase when students return from university and secondary school.


Women in small-scale fisheries will play a key role in implementing the new EU Fisheries Control system – why is nobody asking them what they think?*

The new Fisheries Control Regulation currently before the European Parliament’s PECH Committee aims to be “simple, transparent and effective”, according to Spanish MEP Clara Aguilera, the Rapporteur in charge of this file. In practice, the new Regulation will require the phasing out of paper-based recording (such as paper log books) so that recording and reporting of fishing activities eventually move to digitised ‘fully documented fisheries’, irrespective of vessel size. The thinking is that this will make for better communication between Member States and with the Commission and result in a more efficient and effective control system. The Regulation is supposed to be technologically neutral – in other words it should not prescribe the use of any specific technology to achieve its aims.

During the two hour discussion between Fisheries Committee MEPs on Thursday 30 April, the majority of contributing MEPs expressed concern at the disproportionate impact the Regulation will have on small-scale fisheries. They emphasised the need to understand the on-the-ground realities of small-scale fishing, the need for support (financial and training) for the additional administrative and financial burdens, concern that digitisation (such as the electronic logbook) will impose undue burdens on small-scale fishers (SSF) who were already under huge pressure, even before the global pandemic.

There was, however, no discussion around the practical realities of who exactly will be coping with the burden of these changes to current operating procedures with the introduction of new digital tools and software to successfully report catch and to comply with the landing obligation.


Women in fisheries fly their flags in Brussels*

The end of February saw the relaunch of the AKTEA European Network of Women in Fisheries during a three day event in Brussels, co-organised by AKTEA and LIFE—Low Impact Fishers of Europe—in partnership with the European Economic and Social Committee.

More than forty women in fisheries from Ireland, Italy, Croatia, Malta, Cyprus, Spain, the Azores, France and the Netherlands gathered to share their stories and build new networks.

The aim of the event was to breathe new life into AKTEA, a women in fisheries network that was established in 2006, following a three year exchange programme between European women in fisheries and aquaculture. The name AKTEA derives from Greek mythology – Aktea was the goddess of the shore.


The Galway Islands

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.


A lot has happened!

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.





Drawing from the past to imagine the future – the Donegal Islands

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…)

Introducing CO-SUSTAIN – Collaborative Sustainable Innovation: co-designing small-scale fisheries governance approaches for the Irish islands.

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.