What is your dissertation about?

Diana Garavito-Bermúdez, Department of Education
Diana Garavito-Bermúdez, Department of Education

- This thesis concerns the investigation of ecological knowledge among small-scale fishers. It specifically addresses the ecological knowledge fishers generate, and the influence of their work practices and relationship with nature on the generation of this knowledge.

How was the study conducted? 

- With the aim of contributing to knowledge and understanding of the informal learning processes of ecosystem complexity among small-scale fishers, two case studies were selected: a freshwater ecosystem, i.e., Lake Vättern, and a marine ecosystem, i.e., Blekinge Archipelago (Baltic Sea) in Sweden. The cases were selected for differences in:

  • landscapes – a freshwater ecosystem and a marine ecosystem.
  • target species with traditional and economic values, and under threat status, i.e., Arctic char and American crayfish (freshwater species), and European eel, cod, herring, and sprat (marine species).
  • the cultural and social contexts of fishing activities, such as the fishing traditions of eel and Artic char, and familial fishing tradition versus entrepreneurship.
  • the scale of the fishing environments – one fishing scale (small-scale) in the freshwater ecosystem, and two fishing scales in the marine ecosystem (small-scale and large-scale).
  • the regulation systems and level of management strategies – regional and national in the freshwater ecosystem, and national and international (i.e., EU and Baltic countries) in the marine ecosystem.

The data were collected by using in-depth structured interviews and naturalistic observations of fishing practices and of fishers’ workplaces (e.g., fish stores and harbours) and homes. By combining these methods, important information regarding fishers’ ways of knowing, living, working and self-defining as locals and professionals (including emotional aspects) were captured. Information concerning fishers’ social, cultural and historical experience in fishery contexts, and the interactions between fishers, their work, and their environments, were also captured.

What are the key results of your study? 

- First, a major finding is that two types of knowledge constitute fishers’ ecological knowledge: declarative (or discursive) and procedural (or practical). This finding answers the research question of what ecological knowledge the fishers generated. Second, another major finding is that fishers' knowledge of ecosystem complexity is grounded mainly in processes of work such apprenticeships, testing hypotheses and reflection on their own practices. It means that the generation, transfer and updating of knowledge is mainly done through apprenticeship and hypothesis-testing. This finding answers the question about the influence of work practices on fishers’ ecological knowledge. Third, another major finding concerns the influence of ecological knowledge on local and professional identities. Knowledge of ecosystem complexity is considered core professional knowledge for small-scale professional fishing. In line with this, the knowledge of fishing environments influences professional and local identities. Natural environments influence fishers’ self-identification as locals and the fishers expressed a strong connection to these places (including the fish). Their environments constitute a key element of who they are, and where they belong. For instance, fishers that focus on eel fishing define themselves as ‘eel-fishers’, and belong to a particular eel-fishing community several generations old in that particular place (Blekinge Archipelago). The last major finding is that fishers’ understanding of their ecosystem’s complexity enhances their attachment to it and their behaviours for proximity maintenance – this finding relates to the research question about the influence of fishers’ relationships to nature on their ecological knowledge.

These findings allow the conclusions:

  • Different work practices generate different understandings of ecosystem complexity.
  • Different relationships to nature generate different understandings of ecosystem complexity.
  • Knowledge of ecosystem complexity is strongly related to local and professional identities. In turn, the development of local and professional identities is strong related to fishing and its social, cultural and physical environments.  

Is there something else you would like to add? Something that surprised you?

- The findings presented in this thesis have significant consequences for research on ecological knowledge and environmental learning, and for practices concerning sustainable use and the management of natural resources – in particular for fishery policy. They highlight the significance of small-scale fishing as an informal learning context for global development and sustainability, and acknowledge the role of small-scale fishing in enhancing learning of ecology, influenced by local and professional self-identification, positive behaviours for proximity maintenance and attachment to their communities. The achievement of global development and sustainability goals might depend on rethinking what kind of ecological knowledge fishers generate and how it is impacted by work practices and nature. Furthermore, the findings of this thesis might provide new insights concerning the role of emotions and attachment of fishers – and other local users – in natural resource management, through democratic processes of participation.

In addition, this thesis addresses implications that concern the fishers themselves and their circumstances; the fishers allowed me to bring forth their voices of proudness and love for the fishing profession, tradition and nature, but also the frustration, fear and sadness over possibly being the last generation of small-scale fishers and for the extinction of fishing communities’ cultural and traditional legacies. Hopefully, these findings will call attention to the rapid and almost inevitable industrialisation of fisheries and to future possibilities which will permit small-scale users to continue to live, work and identify themselves with their natural environments. In this manner, this thesis contributes to previous research on management practices and highlights the struggle that small-scale fishers are dealing with today by:

  • Showing and highlighting the threats faced by local professional fishers that carry relevant knowledge, attitudes, emotions, motivations and social interactions required for sustainability learning.
  • Presenting evidence of sustainable work practices for keeping and promoting small-scale fishing.

Why are small-scale fishermens' knowledge important for fish management? (Varför är småskaliga yrkesfiskares kunskap viktig för fiskeförvaltning?)

Because it is a knowledge/information about ecosystem complexity, in terms of :

  • ecosystem structure (feeding interactions - over time - between fish species and other organisms).
  • ecosystem dynamics (drivers of change and their causal effects on fish stocks).
  • ecosystem functions (services – material and non-material benefits provided by the ecosystem to human beings).

This knowledge can contribute to better regulations of fish catches and quotes, to adapt fisheries to drivers of changes such as climate change, overfishing and eutrophication, and to their own impact on fish stocks; this last means to adapt fisheries to ecosystem regime shifts.