The Sociological Perspective on Sustainable Fisheries

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In developing a strategy for the sustainable management of fisheries, the sociology of those involved in the fishery must be considered. Sustaining a society based on fishing is as crucial as sustaining the biological and economic systems of a fishery. Understanding the social dynamics of fishers in relation to each other, environmental groups and those involved in related industry is important in evaluating management policies and their success. Because fishers can be significantly affected by management decisions, their roles in impacting those decisions must not be taken lightly.

The influence of a declining fishery extends well beyond the change in economic and ecological structure of a coastal area. The society that has evolved with the fishery has developed cultural values and traditions based on fishing, and the elimination of the fishery causes a subsequent loss of cultural heritage in the society. Fishing is often much more than simply a job, it is a family lifestyle and livelihood. Extinction of fishing opportunities affects fishers much more severely than a lost job or income because it forces monumental changes in a traditional way of life. Changing a family occupation is not as simple as switching jobs. Likewise, when an entire community is composed primarily of fishers and related workers in a fishery, including, for example, restauranteurs that rely heavily on the community's identification and existence as a "fishing town," the decline of fishing opportunities can be disastrous on many more levels than simply financial.

Although many fish for economic profit, fishers' reasons for maintaining their often difficult lifestyle encompass more than financial needs. Some fish for subsistence and many choose to fish because of the sense of independence and adventure fishing provides. Fishers identify strongly with their lifestyle and form occupational communities in which they view themselves as "fishers." A sense of unity also stems from the danger and risk inherent in working on a fishing vessel. Fishers tend to share a set of values, norms and ideologies that extend beyond the fishing boats and docks into the community.

Fishers maintain friendships and social groups among themselves, despite the fact that fishing can be highly competitive. Divisions among fishers do exist, however. Ethnic or racial differences often distinguish social groups and can be sources of tension. Conflict also arises from ouside interests such as environmental organizations. Without an understanding of the cultural values of the fishing community, such conflicts cannot be effectively resolved.

Sociology of Case Study Fisheries
Alaskan Salmon Fishery
Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Fishery
Massachusetts Groundfishery

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