Fish Scales: Scale and Method in Social Science Research for North Pacific and West Coast Fishing Communities

By Sepez, Jennifer; Norman, Karma et al. | Human Organization, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Fish Scales: Scale and Method in Social Science Research for North Pacific and West Coast Fishing Communities


Sepez, Jennifer, Norman, Karma, Poole, Amanda, Tilt, Bryan, Human Organization


Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) and other legal mandates, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is conducting basic social science research on fishing communities. This basic research differs from issue-driven social impact assessments in that it does not address pending policy changes or specified locations. As a consequence, NMFS's basic social science research must cover very large geographic scales and address a broad array of analytical issues. These needs are in tension with the traditional ethnographic methods of anthropology and the MSFCMA's focus on the community as a unit of analysis. This paper describes how anthropologists at NMFS's Alaska Fisheries Science Center and Northwest Fisheries Science Center navigate these conflicting imperatives by adopting large-scale community profiling using social and fishing indicators informed by ethnographic site visits, and advocating a "nested-scale" analytical framework that imbricates the community level analytical unit with macro-level considerations related to regional and global forces and micro-level dynamics related to intra-community heterogeneity.

Key words: fisheries, fishing communities, community profiles, social indicators, methodology

Overview

Social impact assessment of fishery management actions, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA), and other legal mandates, is conducted in response to proposed policy changes (or programmatic evaluations) that serve to focus research on the most likely impacted communities and on the most likely relevant factors. Basic social science research conducted by agencies in support of fishery management has far fewer bounds; but such freedom from constraint is a deceptive privilege. Without pre-specified locations or policy proposals, basic social science research at NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) must cover very large geographic scales and address a broad array of analytical issues in order to support any number of policy actions that might affect any number of social factors in any number of places. These broad needs are in tension with the traditional ethnographic methods of anthropology and the MSFCMA's focus on the community as a unit of analysis.

This paper describes how anthropologists at NMFS's Alaska Fisheries Science Center and Northwest Fisheries Science Center navigate these conflicting imperatives. The marine areas managed within the Pacific Fishery and North Pacific Fishery management regions comprise the entirety of the US west coast's exclusive economic zones (EEZs), some 1,186,800 square miles of ocean and associated marine resources, with more than 2,200 recognized communities in four states. To embrace this geography as fully as possible while maintaining some legacy of anthropological intimacy, we adopted large-scale community profiling methods using social and fishing indicators informed by ethnographic site visits. We also advocate for a "nested-scale" analytical framework that imbricates the community level analytical unit with macro-level considerations related to regional and global forces and micro-level dynamics related to intra-community heterogeneity.

Anthropologists working in academic institutions have long been interested in the socioculturel aspects of fishing practices and fishing communities (e.g., Acheson 1975; McCay 1979; Miller and Van Maanen 1979; Orbach 1977). As the Federal agency responsible for management of the Nation's marine resources, NMFS's concern with social impact issues was elevated to a new level when Congress passed the Sustainable Fisheries Act in 1996 (Public Law 104-297). The Act included a requirement that management take into consideration the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities, codified as National Standard 8 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA). …

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