Editor's Foreword: The Puertoricanization of North American Fisheries Research

By Griffith, David | Human Organization, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Editor's Foreword: The Puertoricanization of North American Fisheries Research


Griffith, David, Human Organization


Fishers must constantly make inferences about the location, abundance, quality, and distribution of the resource. These inferences are derived from indirect observation and sampling. Every time a fisher sets out a net, hook, or trap, he/she is sampling the water for the resource, which can then be related to proxies such as water conditions, underwater environments and topography, weather, and catch characteristics.

Carlos García Quijano (2006) Resisting Extinction: The Value of Local Ecological Knowledge for Small-scale Fishers in Southeastern Puerto Rico. PhD Dissertation, Anthropology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

The day before I began writing this, with my good friends Manuel Valdés Pizzini and Carlos Garcia Quijano, I visited a Villa Pesquera-a fishing association-on the northwest coast of Puerto Rico, in the municipality of Aguadilla. It was El Dia de St. Juan Bautista (the day of St. John the Baptist) and the fishing families congregating at the Villa were taking advantage of the bustling tourist traffic to market fresh tuna, dolphinfish, and yellowtail and mutton snapper. Like many of the fishing communities profiled in this issue, Aguadilla's have had to deal with several natural, social, economic, and political forces in recent years, many of which seem far beyond their control. Imports of low-cost seafood, the destruction of mangroves, coral reefs, and other habitats, coastal industrial and real estate development, gentrification, and declining fish stocks are only a few of the external problems distressing fishing communities at the same time increasing fuel and other expenses and new and old fishery regulations dart in and out of fishers' strategies, nibbling at the substrates of their livelihoods.

The authors that NOAA anthropologist Lisa Colburn has assembled together for this special issue of Human Organization recognize that fishing in North America and much of the world today reaches far beyond the technologies and strategies of humans pursuing fish and shellfish; that NOAA acknowledges this by expanding its social scientific base from an exclusive reliance on economists to one more open to anthropological and sociological analyses reflects this improved understanding. Just as some early social scientists often embraced, uncritically, suspect models of economists and fishery biologists, migrating toward the mistakes of modernization theory, today some NOAA economists and even a few marine biologists are looking to anthropology and sociology for clues about how to profile and represent fishing communities accurately, understanding that ecosystems include human dimensions and that concepts like Maximum Sustainable Yield lose their power when applied to fishing strategies that include shifting among many species and combining shore-based jobs with fishing over the course of fishers' lives. Economists I know and economists I have read have begun to understand that the cultural significance of fishing communities often outweighs their economic significance, and that to value fishing communities with reference only to their contributions to the gross national product is as silly as valuing the quality of employment across the United States with reference to employment at Wal-Mart. …

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