Project Goals

Fisheries management is widely acknowledged to be about managing humans, not fish, but the human dimensions of fisheries are irreducibly complex. The dynamic interplay of diverse human interests, preferences, and values with respect to fishery resources is exacerbated by a growing, mobile, and technologically sophisticated population competing for ever scarcer resources. Values are implicit in fishery and all human decisions, where trade-offs are weighed, albeit not always rationally or consciously, between alternative behavioural choices and group actions, given various constraints in time, energy, resources, environment, and situational contexts.

By synergizing research in fisheries, ecology, economics, anthropology, and human cognition and behaviour, this project aims to refine fundamental insight of the human dimensions of fisheries to tackle critical societal challenges surrounding common-pool resources. To date, fisheries policy has been dominated by ecology, economics, and politics, but sustainable policy must reflect and constrain how humans relate to and value marine resources. We propose to extend new theoretical research that hypothesizes an overlapping hierarchy of human values (natural, social, cultural, moral and institutional) and incorporate it in a social-economic framework for fisheries valuation and analysis. We will construct and test a logics of choice in which some variables are weighted more than others, e.g., food over fun, and constrained by economic rationality, e.g., catch predictable amount of fish within an acceptable amount of time. Our ultimate goal is to develop a theory of fisheries valuation that realistically accounts for human preferences and can be woven into a semi-quantitative policy decision-making tool.

In this project we develop a new theory of human values as the human dimensions framework for updated Rapfish evaluation fields, which will be tested and refined by the interdisciplinary research team, international experts in fisheries policy. By thus conceptualizing fundamental, but typically implicit values, our research framework can inform policy decisions by making the values of diverse stakeholders explicit and part of the decision-making process.

Valuing the human dimensions of fisheries is a concrete interdisciplinary research challenge that can be informed by theoretical analysis and empirical data on human values as they relate to environmental resources. The project team reflects and embraces this challenge: the PI is trained as an evolutionary ecologist and now researches fisheries policy; the co-applicants include two ecological economists, an anthropological archaeologist and a cognitive researcher; and international collaborators are experts in fisheries policy, ecological modelling and fuzzy logic.

Human reliance on fish through history has increasingly depleted marine resources, with global impacts today manifest in vulnerable marine ecosystems and threatened food security. A surging world population has spurred heavy consumer demand for fish supplied by industrial fisheries, which benefit from government subsidies and international markets. Societal costs of unsustainable exploitation of marine resources include accelerating climate change, widening socio-economic inequities and extreme local poverty.

Modern commercial fisheries, as coupled human and natural systems, are plagued by complex issues: inadequate data, conflicting valuations, inappropriate incentives, poor compliance, failed management, vague policy goals, dysfunctional institutions and ineffective governance. Fisheries management is widely acknowledged to be about managing humans, not fish, but the human dimensions of fisheries are irreducibly complex.

The dynamic interplay of diverse human interests, preferences, and values with respect to fishery resources is exacerbated by a growing, mobile, and technologically sophisticated population competing for ever scarcer resources. Values are implicit in fishery and all human decisions: trade-offs are weighed, not always rationally or consciously, between alternative decisions and actions, constrained by time, energy, resources, environment, and situational context.


From the UBC Martha Piper Research Fund proposal


By synergizing research in fisheries ecology, human cognition and behaviour, economics, anthropology, this project aims to refine basic insight of the human dimensions of fisheries to tackle critical societal challenges surrounding common-pool resources. To date, fisheries policy has been dominated by ecology, economics, and politics, but sustainable policy must reflect and constrain how humans relate to and value marine resources. We propose to extend new theoretical research that hypothesizes an overlapping hierarchy of human values (natural, social, cultural, moral and institutional) and incorporate it in a social-economic framework for fisheries valuation and analysis. We will construct and test a logics of choice in which some choices are more weighted than others, e.g., food over fun, and constrained by economic rationality, e.g., catch predictable amount of fish within an acceptable amount of time. Our ultimate goal is to develop a theory of fisheries valuation that realistically accounts for human preferences and can be woven into a semi-quantitative policy evaluation tool.

Rapfish is a policy tool (invented by the PI) that evaluates fisheries sustainability along multiple performance modalities (see axes in kite diagram) The Rapfish tool, which is mathematically sophisticated, scalable, robust and accounts for uncertainty, provides a holistic account of specific fisheries and has become widely adopted by the international community. It fails to account adequately for the human dimensions of fisheries, as research in this area is lacking. It was designed heuristically by fisheries ecologists and ethicists and has been applied to evaluate the UN Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the ethical status of Canadian fisheries. To make the policy tool more robust and to allow it to test our theoretical research on valuation, we propose to develop an evolutionary theory of human values as the framework for updated Rapfish evaluation fields. Its validity will be tested and refined by invited experts in fisheries policy and local fishers, working with the interdisciplinary research team, to evolve the theory and use it for analysis. By thus conceptualizing fundamental, but typically implicit values, our new framework can inform policy decisions by making values of diverse stakeholders explicit and part of the decision-making process.

Interdisciplinary Research Project

A unique and pervasive challenge for an interdisciplinary team that researches humans is the division of disciplinary researchers over the importance of cultural particulars versus evolutionary universals. Collaboration between social and natural scientists is growing, but differences in methodology and frameworks can stifle progress. Are proximate or ultimate drivers more important? Are there human universals or is the local context the critical variable in determining human behaviour. After a discussion and concept development phase, the project will culminate in a workshop where the new framework will be tested using international case studies.
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