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.

2. Methods

2.1. Literature review

The aim of the literature review was to provide an overview of the range of decisions fishers make and the drivers that influence these decisions. The findings of the review were used to develop a plan and methodology for collecting primary data to explore the topic in more detail.

A systematic review of the available literature was conducted using primarily Google Scholar as well as other search engines. UK-based regulatory and management portals were also explored to collect evidence from various primary and secondary sources. For example, the review looked at peer-reviewed literature, grey literature, government reports and working group publications. Searches were narrowed to a 10-year period (2012 – 2022). The Boolean logic was used to combine search terms relating to various decisions fishers make on a daily, seasonal, and annual basis (See Annex 1 for further details on search terms used). Additional search terms specifying geography were included to identify literature of greater relevance to the study area. These geographical-based search terms focused on Europe, EU, North America, UK and Scotland. The search results were collated and catalogued in an excel collection log and then narrowed down into an excel literature framework database. The literature review collation log is available in Annex 2.

Thematic content analysis was used to critically analyse and interpret the literature. The main focus of the analysis was on the descriptions of choices fishers made and the drivers for these decisions. These choices were coded and grouped under several broad categories. The frequency of different codes observed in the literature searches was also noted. An in-depth analysis into the patterns and context in which these choices were made (i.e. social or economic drivers) was conducted. This critical analysis was undertaken to:

  • Collate and summarise the choices made by members of the fishing industry found within the literature;
  • Gain an understanding of how and why fishers make decisions, accounting for the context in which they operate and various drivers affecting their decisions;
  • To design a study and consider methodologies for exploring the topic of fishers’ choice in more detail using an approach that is appropriate for the Scottish context.

2.2. Input from the industry representatives

In advance of the interviews with fishers the project team contacted Fishing Industry Representatives to discuss the project and explain its aims and objectives. In order to ensure the best available spread, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) and the Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance (CIFA) were contacted. The SFF is made up of eight associations representing 400 vessels from inshore to large pelagic vessels. CIFA is made up of nine associations and welcomes individual fishers as well as established representative bodies. Individual Associations were also contacted along with a number of Producer Organisations covering the East and West Coasts of Scotland.

The draft interview guide (available in Annex 3) was discussed with industry representatives, as well as the initial findings of the literature review. The purpose of this was to sense check the findings of the review and refine the interview guide, if needed. The feedback from these discussions was generally positive and no changes were made to the interview guide. Seeking advice in this way offered an opportunity for a follow up call to address any queries. It proved a very useful method to initiate a discussion.

The fishing industry representatives circulated the interview request to fishers within their organisations to raise awareness of the project and to ask those who wished to take part to come forward. It was recognised that there were a number of pressures on industry at the time of the study and that this was acknowledged in requesting people’s time. The email template used for this introduction is provided in Annex 4.

This initial engagement also enabled the project team to increase their understanding of the following areas in advance of conducting the pilot study:

Recommendations on the most effective way for engaging with individual fishers during the pilot study (e.g. engagement with local representatives);

Which fleet segments to include and how to group fishers (e.g. gear types);

How to consider different geographical regions.

In addition to this, the Research Advisory Group for the project included fishing representatives who had the opportunity to comment at each stage of the pilot study.

2.3. Primary data collection

Primary data collection for the project consisted of a mixture of face-to-face interviews using the targeted interview guide developed via consultation with the industry representatives (see section above).

Engaging with fishers was carried out with sensitivity and ethical considerations at all times. It was acknowledged that the policy context that fishers operate in is very complex. A copy of the project privacy notice (available in Annex 5) was provided to all stakeholders and their permission to record the interview was obtained before the interview commenced.

Opinion was sought from the following groups:

  • Inshore static gear fishers;
  • Inshore mobile gear fishers;
  • Demersal fishers;
  • Nomadic mobile gear fishers;
  • Pelagic fishers.

Fishers were contacted using the network of fishers’ representatives spanning different geographical areas (i.e. federations, associations, producer organisations), as well as through the recommendations of individual fishers. In this way, a reasonable sample from each group noted above was achieved. Overall, 12 interviews were carried out.

Initial contact was made either by email or phone depending on contact information provided by the participants and their preferred mode of communication. Once that initial contact was made participants were offered to give a one-to-one interview (options included phone interview, online, face-to-face). Every effort was made to accommodate participants’ individual preferences.

During the interview, the structured interview guide (available in Annex 3) was used to take the respondent through the questions. Interviewees were also given the opportunity to make further comments.

2.4. Approach to primary data analysis

After the interviews, primary data was analysed according to the detailed plan set out in Annex 6. This plan was discussed and confirmed with the Research Advisory Group before the interviews.

The interview guide generated background data and qualitative responses. Background data included demographic information, information about gear, vessel types and fishing patterns. Qualitative data derived from the interviews was analysed using thematic analysis that is widely used in social science. It has been assessed by the project team to be a suitable methodology for the study. There are six key steps within this approach:

  • Familiarisation with the data: read through the transcripts/minutes and note meanings and patterns that appear.
  • Creation of initial codes: a set of initial codes is created that represent the meanings and patterns seen in the data. Codes are applied to the data.
  • Collate codes: all excerpts of data with the same code are grouped.
  • Group codes into themes: coded data is sorted into potential themes. These themes point to the trends and patterns in the data, e.g. when certain themes are frequently raised by different participants.
  • Review and revise themes: iteratively revise analysis to ensure that the coding, sorting and applying of themes is accurate and representative, sub-themes may emerge at this stage.
  • Write up and summarise themes: writing up the narrative is the final step in the analysis. The themes are presented and explained in the context of their frequency and importance assigned by research participants. Representative quotes from the data set are used to demonstrate the themes.



Back to top