Port Orford is a small fishing community on the southern Oregon coast. Like many coastal towns in Oregon, Port Orford's main economy is the commercial fishing industry. As such, the community has a high dependence on its nearshore marine resources. Those who make their living from these resources know that successful management is vital to maintain the fisheries and the economy that they depend on.
The market for live fish in Port Orford has increased rapidly over the past two decades. To ensure that these stocks have resilience to market pressures, the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team, a local non-profit organization, has actively promoted collaborative research and monitoring of local stocks. I worked with local fishermen to design and conduct a tagging and observational study to learn more about movement of rockfish in the Port Orford area and to try to evaluate the effectiveness of a local, voluntary conservation measure to release gravid females. The overall goal of this project was to evaluate the possibilities and limitations of collaborative research and fish stock monitoring in fishing communities like Port Orford.
From late spring of 2008 through winter 2010, 1080 fish of 11 species were tagged with external plastic tags and released by scientists, fishermen and NOAA observers on regular commercial fishing trips. Although tag returns have been sparse (1.39% overall), the results of our tagging study provide some initial clues on movement rates of rockfishes in the Port Orford nearshore reef system. This provides pilot data for development of future studies and may inform management decisions regarding the rockfish in and around a site that will soon be designated as a marine reserve. Underwater observation of 4 released rockfish suggests that “venting” – release of expanded air in the swim bladder with a hypodermic needle – may be a successful tool for getting released fish back into protective habitat.
Overall, I found that collaborative research is complex and time consuming, and that involvement by both fishermen and scientists was essential for the project. I found that local fishermen were enthusiastic about the project and several participated in the tagging effort; but their assistance was often limited due to poor weather conditions, permit issues, and the need to make money by fishing rather than doing research. Each group contributed significantly to the successes of the project by offering their own expertise and resources. Fishermen offered a tremendous amount of local knowledge, logistics and practicalities of research on fishing vessels, and their valuable time for chartering and collection. Scientists offered experimental design, data collection, and data analysis. There are no “one size fits all” solutions for solving the inherent issues of working with many different groups with many different backgrounds.
The principal success of this project was creating the opportunity for more local, collaborative fisheries research in the future. This project may perhaps encourage research led by the fishermen themselves. It emphasized the importance of effective communication and the significance of bringing both local knowledge and scientific knowledge to the table. It is my hope that lessons learned from this, and other projects that bring together a diversity of stakeholders for the common goal of better management, could help actualize these opportunities.
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