- This is a case study of the cooperative development of an ocean condition
forecasting tool by Oregon commercial fishermen, Oregon State University (OSU)
scientists, and OSU student software engineers. Ocean condition forecasting models
developed by OSU scientists were used to create an online tool to assist decision-making
for fishermen. This tool is loosely based on the NANOOS Visualization System (NVS), a
publically available product of the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing
The new tool was designed using data gathered from Oregon commercial fishermen
in semi-structured interviews and group meetings. These interviews and meetings explored
the ways that the fishing community uses ocean condition information to inform fishing
tactics. Similar interviews with scientists explored why and how the scientific community
creates tools like NVS. Interviews were also conducted with the software engineers who
built the tool in an attempt to examine the product design process itself. Resulting findings
were used to build a prototype tool that matches the capabilities of the scientific and
development communities with the needs of the fishing community. This study also
gathered observations on fishermen's, scientists', and developers’ motives for cooperation
in research and product development.
Research in the fishing community indicated that fishermen make use of a wide
variety of information, and in a diversity of ways. For example, predictions of sea surface
temperature were of particular interest to tuna, swordfish, and salmon fishermen, while
crabbers placed an emphasis on the speed and direction of ocean currents. There was
general interest in wave models, particularly at the entrance to harbors, given the impact of
wave action on vessel safety. Fishermen expressed interest in accurate representations of
bathymetry, as well as in subsurface currents.
Interface issues with the tool were also important. Fishermen stressed that
simplicity and intuitive ease-of-use be balanced with richness of information. For example,
fishermen expressed a preference for distance to be expressed in nautical miles rather than
in the kilometers that are currently the default NVS setting. While they praised NVS for
providing them with access to information on a wide variety of ocean conditions, the
multiplicity of models available on NVS and the manner in which they were arranged
could sometimes be confusing. Fishermen mentioned that they often use tools like NVS at
sea, where the dynamic nature of the environment (i.e., on boat in constant motion) raises
interface issues generally not present ashore. There was also concern about connectivity for
an internet-based tool at sea, distant from internet or cellular connections.
This research uncovered important details about the cooperative design process.
Fishermen, in particular, expressed mixed feelings about cooperation with the scientific
community, especially with respect to the perceived role scientists play in fisheries
regulation. Fishermen also stated that the scientific community failed to value fishermen's
knowledge. However, given the non-regulatory nature of this project, fishermen expressed
This research also uncovered practical considerations for cooperation between
fishermen and scientists. For example, the best time for meetings and interviews with
fishermen was October, November, and early December, during a lull in fishing activity
that generally precedes the opening of the winter crab season. Early in the crab season, as
well as late spring, were particularly bad times as the fishermen were generally busy.
Fishermen's schedules may be irregular, dependent on fisheries regulations and on ocean
conditions that may be highly uncertain. Scientists, by contrast, may have highly inflexible
schedules, with numerous commitments booked months into the future. As a result,
coordination between these two groups may prove challenging, and require creative
thinking to maneuver around.
Scientists expressed enthusiasm for using their ocean models to benefit the fishing
community, as this demonstrated the applicability of their research to areas outside of
academia. In the words of one participating scientist, "You want people to use the research
that you’re doing." The idea of cooperation also met with a favorable response, but the
value of middlemen who could intermediate between the communities was stressed. Lack
of time was cited as a barrier to direct interaction, as was the perception that end-user
interaction was a more appropriate job for social scientists, rather than oceanographers.
The student software engineers who formed the tool's product development team
also appreciated having a go-between to research the needs of the fishermen, "digest" the
field data, and contribute findings to the design process. This freed the product
development team to focus on its own strength (writing code), with the intermediary
arranging occasional interactions with fishermen or scientists as necessary. However, the
design team members did stress that as the new tool developed, direct interaction with
fishermen would become more necessary. It may be that as the cooperative product
development process continues the role of the intermediary may change. Those who study
this in the future may find themselves facilitating and observing direct communication
between participating fishermen, scientists, and development team members, rather than
acting as the main channel of communication as has thus far been the case.
This research has laid the groundwork for continuing development of a useful tool
for Oregon's fishermen. It has also contributed to a mutually beneficial channel of
communication between the fishing and scientific communities. Lessons learned about
fishermen, scientists, and product designers can inform future iterations of the cooperative
design process, as well as provide a basis for cooperation in other areas of research.
However, these lessons and new channels of communication are only as valuable as
the willingness to follow through with the cooperative development process. If the new tool
never gets beyond the proof-of-concept stage, it may actually serve to worsen relations
between the fishing and academic communities. According to one scientist, "If the project
stops here, the fishermen will chalk this up to one more academic 'teaser' or failure."
Fishermen, scientists, and development team members have all invested time, energy, and
goodwill into this project. All three groups stand to realize that investment if the project
succeeds, and to loose it if the project fails. True success in this project arguably means that the cooperative development process will be alive and benefiting the participants when this thesis is gathering dust on a shelf.