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How Better Design Can Heal the Fishing Industry

CCA LiveE | Friday December 30th, 2011 | 0 Comments

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

By Jess Bell

We live in a very innovative time that has allowed people to become faster, more efficient and more productive. Technology allows us to accomplish more than ever before, yet we live on a planet of finite natural resources that are being consumed faster than they can be replaced. The fishing industry is one place where this has become very evident.

Fishing practices that once sought to maximize the size of the catch, as efficiently as possible through the use of GPS and tracking devices, have led to a dire situation: severely depleted fish populations. In the face of this problem, fishers have realized that in order to survive they must innovate and find smarter ways to fish. The focus must now turn from the quantity of the catch to the quality of the catch.

Fish are one of the last wild food sources we consume, they are not usually raised in a controlled environment, [although though fish farming is gaining popularity. Government regulations seek to provide some measure of control by enforcing catch limits, restricting the use of certain equipment and issuing licenses, but this seems to be a Band-Aid solution that is doing little to effectively sustain fish populations. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization claims that more than 80 percent of fisheries are being fished beyond sustainable limits.

In Maine where the lobster and fishing industry is a large part of the local economy, fishing is a tradition and a way of life for many families. Skills and knowledge known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) are passed down through generations, allowing local fishers to become keen observers with an intimate understanding of the local ecology and fish populations.

The Maine lobster and fishing community also strongly adheres to a code of conservation ethics; they understand that their livelihood depends on long-term sustainable fishing methods to ensure a future of viable fishing stock.  For example, they are committed to releasing immature specimens and egg-bearing females to grow and reproduce, notching the tails of egg-bearing  female lobsters to spare them for 1 or 2 breeding seasons until the notch grows out.

In recent years, scientists have been using the TEK of local fishers to better monitor fish movements and behavior, providing better insight into how to manage them. This has also contributed to the design of better equipment which decreases the bycatch of unwanted and immature fish. In the past, gear was designed to help fishers capture the largest catch possible, a practice that has greatly contributed to over-harvesting. Now a community of fishers in Port Clyde, ME have partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to develop better nets that are designed to let smaller species and immature fish escape back into the sea to grow and breed. While these selective nets result in smaller catches, fishers say the nets produce a higher quality of catch and cause less damage to the marketable fish allowing them to fetch higher prices. This also has made their job more efficient, cutting down on time spent sorting out and returning fish that are too small to keep.

This innovative thinking that honors Traditional Ecological Knowledge is helping to slowly restore fish populations in the Gulf of Maine and is beginning to be seen as a model of sustainability for fishing communities in other regions.


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Categorized: Agriculture & Food|

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