Catherine Chambers, a doctoral student with the University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries program, recently received a Fulbright scholarship to study how fishermen in both Iceland and Kodiak adapt to changes in the fishing industry.
Some of the changes to fishing she will research are on the large scale of rationalization and economic collapse.
Chambers arrived in Kodiak on Monday to spend the summer pursuing a similar and related research project. She also visited in April to present at the Marine Science Symposium on the oral history of fisheries in Alutiiq communities.
The germ for the idea that led to the Fulbright scholarship came in 2008 as Chambers was working in an aquaculture lab in Iceland identifying stream invertebrates for a freshwater ecology project. In October of that year a banking collapse and economic crisis hit the country and Chambers noticed that people began talking about how the economic crisis would affect the fishing industry.
All of the fisheries in Iceland went to the quota system in the 1980s, Chambers said. So one aim of her research is to learn how the economic collapse affects the fishermen whose quotas were used as collateral in the banks.
But she is also interested in economic hardship on a personal level, as rationalization of the fisheries in Iceland reduced the fishing fleet and displaced people who made their livelihood from the ocean.
“There were a lot of anthropologists and other social science researchers trying to research the economic and social impacts of the quota system, and there’s a lot of really great work that came out of that,” Chambers said.
Part of that research looked at how the loss of quotas affected rural communities through the accumulation of quotas in larger communities and companies.
“A lot of small-scale fishing, a lot of small boats were put out business,” Chambers said. “If you have a small fishing town and the fishermen leave, then a lot of times all the other support industries can’t support themselves, either,” for example, net builders and processing plants.
“It’s important because there’s a lot more to fishing than just people making money,” Chamber said “There’s a lot of stuff written about how this is in people’s souls. It’s sort of easy to imagine that being a fisherman is more than a job.”
But what happens when that livelihood and identity is taken away through a rationalization process?
“Do they see themselves still being a fisherman, still being part of that world?” Chambers asks. “Would they want to come back if they could? Do they find themselves being able to be involved in the management talks?”
Chambers is also interested in researching how marine tourism, such as whale watching, may play a role in changes from commercial fishing, and how it may represent a new way of viewing how the ocean is used to make a living.
“I think the neat thing for the Fulbright is that it gives me a platform to say I am a researcher from the U.S. and I’m trying to think about these things in the broader context of global change — whether it’s climate or environmental or economic,” she said.
Chambers is one of four graduate students at the UAF School of Fisheries involved in an interdisciplinary program focused on sustainability of marine ecosystems in Arctic regions, funded by the National Science Foundation.
That interdisciplinary approach includes subjects like anthropology and economics when studying fisheries.
“Fisheries aren’t just the fish,” Chambers said. “A lot of times it’s viewed as just the animal, and I think that it is interesting to realize that there’s this whole other social world there that’s centered on fish.
Chambers will travel to Iceland in September and conduct research there until May 2012. She will return to Kodiak thereafter to continue her research.
Mirror writer Wes Hanna can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.