Social surveys add value

The September 2019 meeting of the UK Fisheries Economics Network (UKFEN) took the form of a symposium reviewing socioeconomic perspectives of the UK small scale fleet. Crick contributed to the session on “Social research on fishing communities in the UK” presenting insights on the subject drawn from a sample of 11 UK projects undertaken by Nautilus over the last decade.  

Crick argued that socioeconomic studies in fisheries tend to focus more on the economic and less on the social element – which is fine where economic contribution is the focus, but less helpful where an insight into behaviour and behavioural change is sought. In this regard, the social element takes on particular and greater significance as one moves to studies on the small scale fleet.

Drawing on long experience, Crick suggests that this is an area where we – as consultants, as a research community, and as commissioning bodies – are not so good at matching management and development needs with work to elaborate and understand the social and economic drivers behind behaviour, and crucially behind change, within the fisheries and seafood sector. For example, the nature of current studies in this area is not be so good at informing key decision-makers on how “agents of change” influence development within the industry, or at building a better understanding of entrepreneurship within the sector, or at revealing the extent to which working conditions, insecurity, and the fallout from gear conflicts influence the mental health of fishermen and impact fishing households – all areas of heightened significance when dealing with smaller coastal communities, and with small-scale fishing.

Crick’s slide series, which can be viewed here, provides a list of metrics ranked with a 1 to 5 star system, based on how much ‘attention’ each metric typically gets in research. He uses this to highlight short-comings and information gaps in the research record. He cautions how those less familiar with the sector are easily drawn to headline figures on economic worth and employment and miss information on how the sector works and where and how behaviours can be modified. So much policy and planning continues to be made and sanctioned by decision-makers oblivious to the more nuanced complexities of the many overlapping social, cultural and economic systems that make up this industry and the communities that support it. More, and better targeted, work on the socio- element of the socio-economics of the sector is needed to bring better balance to policy and planning, and to better inform where and how intervention for change can be more/most effective.