Fishers - strategies and choices: feasibility study

This social research publication explores what influences the decision making of Scottish fishers. It presents findings from twelve interviews with fishers. The main findings are focused on the social, economic, governance, and environmental drivers in fishers’ decision making.

1. Introduction

1.1. Background

Fishing is an important industry for Scotland because of the social, cultural and economic benefits it generates for local communities and the wider nation.

In November 2022, the Marine Directorate[3] commissioned research to understand what drives and influences the reasoning and decision making of fishers who operate in Scottish waters. Fishers are constantly weighing up options and making choices as part of their short-term and long-term planning. When making these decisions, a number of factors may come into play. These may be circumstantial (i.e. marine policies, marine developments, regulations, climate change), practical (i.e. making a profit, making the best use of time and resources) and personal (i.e. values, fears, family, culture). Decision making involves balancing these factors as some factors may be more influential than others.

For example, when choosing whether to change gear type, a fisher may consider the following factors: the skills and knowledge they need to diversify, the cost of buying new gear, the potential profits, the hours involved with fishing using new gear, the implications of any current or upcoming marine developments or marine policy changes, the impact this might have on family life, the need for more or less crew, the knock on effect this might have for employment in the area, the change in identity associated with fishing with different gear, and many other factors.

These decisions may be influenced by a range of factors and pressures, both external and internal to the industry. For example, the impact of EU-exit, the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, and climate change may affect marine industries and ecosystems in different ways.

In addition, fishers operate within the context of a complex and dynamic shared marine space. They often navigate alongside other marine users and have impact on these users. It is a highly diverse industry, and it is particularly challenging to understand their interactions with other marine users.

The methods by which individual fishers adapt to meet the challenges and opportunities, as well as their interactions with other marine users, have implications for the crew, the wider local communities, and the environments that they operate within.

Understanding how these factors interact, which factors are most important, and in what situations these are more important is key to effective management and policies that enhance sustainable and responsible fishing practices.

This report describes the results of a project that was focused on building an understanding of how different factors play a role in fishers’ decision making, and which factors are most important in specific situations.

1.2. Aims and objectives

The project aimed to gain an understanding of how and why fishers make decisions, taking into account the context in which they operate. It also aimed to explore different behaviour and actions by fleet sectors as well as other criteria (e.g. geographic location, length of time fishing, age, gender). In order to achieve these aims, the project set the following objectives:

  • Conduct an international literature review of evidence and deliver a report on the findings;
  • Develop a study design and consider methodologies to research this topic in Scotland, including the approach to the collection of primary data using appropriate methods;
  • Collect primary data, using appropriate social research methods, to expand on the findings from the literature review.

The main research question that informed the methodology focused on: What drives and influences the reasoning and decision making of fishers who operate in Scottish waters, with regard to their fishing activities?

The project was envisioned as a pilot study to test the research question and research methodology through a small number of interviews. It intended to indicate whether a follow up project should be conducted based on the pilot findings.

Given the relatively small number of interviews that were conducted (twelve interviews), the findings of this project should be treated as indicative only, as they may not be representative of all the views of wider fishing communities in Scotland.



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