Home' Ausmarine : March 2010 Contents It is no secret, that had I been forced to make my living as a
fisherman, I may well have starved. It was plain good luck that
I was, for a fair bit of my life, in the company of family, friends
and colleagues who knew what was what on a boat.
In their forlorn attempts to turn me into a competent boat
handler and fisherman, I became the recipient of their
remembered trips, traumas, techniques and observations. It was
pure gold. For all their hands-on ability, they often as not became
shy and "all-at-sea", when fronting authority, or publicly pursuing
a cause. I ended up with that job.
Successful advocacy depends pretty much on a comprehensive
knowledge of the issues and awareness of the strengths and
weakness of the argument. For me, comprehensive knowledge
always came from the "hands on" fisherman sitting next to me at a
meeting. What was a constant surprise was the accuracy of the
memory of many of these blokes when it came to seasons, catches,
locations and weather. There seemed to be some sort of
compensation for a shortened time at school or study with a
sharpened memory of events.
While management is clearly getting better at consultation, it
still doesn't know how to utilise, or even access, the accumulated
wisdom and memory of industry. All too often management falls
back on some hurried research project prompted by a perceived
crisis. The "crisis" is sometimes genuine, but, just as often,
generated and amplified by fund-hungry special interests.
In any event the industry history is rarely given credence, let
alone priority. Instead, the grossly abused "precautionary
principle" will be trotted out to quench any development sparks
lurking in the enterprising heart of a fisherman. Frequently it's a
tool to protect the career prospect of a nervous manager being
asked to make a development decision. Management's past
mistakes are not usually forgotten by industry, though.
"I remember you" -- Another pop song
The clinically proven benefits of a diet rich in fish are no doubt
annoying the hell out of certain food fascist groups; slowing the
progress of Alzheimer's, reducing the effect of depression, heart
disease and arthritis, is all great for our product profile. However,
when it comes to the ability of fish to remember, there seems to be
a popular belief that the memory span of some species at least runs
to about five seconds. Why anyone would believe this, god only
knows, but it has lately resulted in some research which basically
says, "It ain't so".
Apart from the demonstrations for tourists of fish ringing a food
bell in an aquarium, the movement of travelling fish away from
areas of past heavy predation (only to turn up somewhere else) is
something skippers learn about pretty early, if they want to stay in
the game. Ted Richey's book The Flying Fisherman about his dad
Richard has an account concerning the common memory of
travelling Australian salmon and his dad's insistence that none
should escape the purse.
He also, like many a roughy fisherman, points to the learned
response of roughy aggregations to scatter at the ping of a sounder.
With a wealth of practical industry knowledge about the ability of
fish to store and recall information you may reasonably ask why
Macquarie University researchers thought it worthy of further study.
Well, as was explained in an ABC interview, the capacity to
remember and avoid danger has a significant bearing on species
stock assessment. Management decisions based on assumption that
a stock has gone for good when it may have simply gone
somewhere else, can lead to management decisions that
permanently affect communities. As we have recently witnessed,
the social consequences for fishing communities can be tragic. Lost
fishing families don't matter much to modelling zealots.
"'Loose virgins', an oxymoron'"
In the alarm and despondency campaign so effectively waged
by the ACF, WWF, Pew institute and Greenpeace, et al, assumption
can have more news worthiness than fact. It's nice and bendy and
can be slipped in with a few facts to give apparent validity to what
otherwise might be a very dodgy assessment or suspect modelling.
The rather loose use of the term "virgin stock" instead of the
more honest "estimated stock", is just one example of what
becomes embedded in the sometimes hysterical fishing debate as
fact. Orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) is a prime example. If
we are to believe some activists, the late seventies and the eighties
are the "virgin stock" period.
I don't quite see how one can reach such a conclusion, given
that the abundance of that period may well have, in itself, been an
aberration. If roughy are as long-lived a species as claimed, then
surely the huge whaling and sealing effort of the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries had its effect.
Questionable assumptions about virginity have been around for
quite a while. Some religions still rely on them. I don't think
fisheries managers should though.
"Science with a slant?"
As the "Climategate" fiasco hit top gear, the BBC in Britain
dropped its existing weather forecasting and reporting provider.
What I find equally interesting is the announcement by that most
prestigious and previously reliable broadcaster that there is to be an
enquiry into its science reporting. Hopefully it will go some way to
convince some ministers and policy makers that having a degree does
not protect us from ill-disciplined research, the career-enhancing
need to be published, or political influence.
With a bit of luck, someone game enough and powerful enough
here in good old gullible OZ will demand an enquiry into some of
our supposedly authoritative and unbiased information providers.
GBRMPA might be a good place to start.
"Memories are made of this"
A personal comment from Ulladulla's very own
Barry McRoberts on Management Matters.
March 2010 AUSMARINE
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