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Social Aspects of the Pelagic Fisheries, Phase I: The Hawaii Troll and Handline Fishery

Social aspects of the Hawaiian pelagic troll fishery will be studied to describe patterns of participation in the fishery, identify social and management problems, and analyze institutional and policy constraints. Through an improved sociocultural understanding of pelagic fishermen, effective management policies can be developed that should be understood and accepted by participants of the pelagic fisheries sector.

A Phase II section of this project will extend research on harvesting patterns and industry perceptions of fishery management problems to additional regions of Hawaii Island, O'ahu and the other islands. Funding for Phase II was awarded during late 1996.

A final project report published as part of the SOEST-JIMAR publication series:
"Social aspects of Pacific pelagic fisheries, Phase I: The Hawai'i troll and handline fishery", 1996. Marc L. Miller. SOEST 96-04, JIMAR Contribution 96-303.
See SOEST-JIMAR Publications page for other PFRP reports.

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Marc Miller
School of Marine Affairs
University of Washington
3707 Brooklyn Avenue NE
Seattle, Washington 98105-6715
Phone (206) 543-7004
FAX (206) 543-1417
email: mlmiller@u.washington.edu

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The following excerpt is the executive summary from the final project report published in 1995, entitled Social Aspects of Pacific Pelagic Fisheries, Phase I: The Hawai'i Troll and Handline Fishery, M. Miller


A prerequisite for the development of marine fishery management objectives and regulations to achieve these is an understanding of the human and biological components of fishery systems and their environments. Fishery science ­ an applied field involving the disciplines of fishery biology, oceanography, mathematics, statistics, and more recently, economics, cultural anthropology, and sociology ­ contributes to fishery management with analyses of fishery structures and processes.

The research reported here was designed to meet the needs of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC). The Council, created with the passage of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, has jurisdiction for fisheries conducted in the 3-200 nautical mile US Exclusive Economic Zone encompassing waters surrounding the islands of Hawai'i, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.

One of the fisheries managed by the Council concerns the harvest of large pelagic species including tunas, billfish, mahimahi, ono, and sharks. In accordance with the MFCMA, optimum yield is prescribed on the basis of maximum sustainable yield "as modified by any relevant economic, social or ecological factor." In making policy, the Council determines the amount of fish than can be harvested, and how opportunities to access fish should be distributed among elements of industry.

The fishery management problem addressed in this Phase I report is that virtually nothing is documented about the human component of the Hawai'i offshore troll and handline pelagic fishery. This sector is composed of up to 10,000 small boat (under 45') vessels registered with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Of these, only 2,000 to 3,000 boat owners have commercial marine licenses required for the sale of fish.

The overarching goal of this multi-phase project is a baseline sociocultural case study of the Hawai'i troll and handline pelagic fishery. Specific Phase I objectives were to 1) describe the institutional environment of the fishery, 2) reveal the social organization of the fishery, and 3) identify fishermen's perceptions of fishery issues. Another major research goal was to develop a conceptual framework for the continuation of cultural and social studies of the fishery.

This document consists of six major sections. Section 1.0 is an introduction; Section 2.0 presents research goals, Section 3.0 presents a conceptual framework in which the human component of the fishery is defined as a system of harvesting, distribution, management, and public elements. Section 4.0 describes the institutional structure of the fishery with reference to an array of federal, state, county, and traditional authorities that achieve social control through laws, regulations, and customs.

Section 5.0 reports on the harvesting sector of the troll and handline pelagic fishery. Field data were collected through informal, open-ended ethnographic interviews conducted with well over a hundred fishermen, and an exploratory survey (N=54) of fishermen on the islands of 0'ahu and Hawai'i. A first subsection presents geartype and seasonable patterns of fishing; a second subsection reports species patterns.

The third harvesting sector subsection describes the social and cultural patterns that characterize Hawai'i styles of troll and handline fishing. The importance of fishing in Hawai'i transcends the fishing trip and extends to the selling and sharing of fish, and also to talk story discourse. The social organization of pelagic crews show ohana ("family'), hui ("firm"), hoaloha ("friendship), and combination structures.

The social and cultural processes that shape troll and handline fishing are described by a ritual model of fishing production. With this model, fishing generates sacred objects and moral and social solidarity within the fishing community. In providing the opportunity for the development and maintenance of relationships, fishing brings people together and gives meaning to the lives of fishermen, their family, and friends.

Hawai'i styles of pelagic fishing are shown to have profit, holoholo ("recreational"), kaukau("subsistence"), and expense variants. Troll and handline fishing motivations are described by a model of fishing action. Fishing action is a problematic and consequential activity engaged in for its own sake. Phases of generic and tournament fishing action are illustrated. Fishing reputation and character are demonstrated to be of central importance in the pursuit of fishing action.

In the second section, fishery management issues are defined as a mixture of problems and opportunities. A conceptual model of the natural history of fishery management problems is discussed. Fishermen's perceptions of management issues are presented against this framework. Problem categories include overfishing, resource depletion, competition, and pollution and waste. Finally, fishermen's cognitions of pelagic species are reported. Results suggest that cognitive differences mirror fishing styles.

Section 6.0 remarks on the relevance of findings for management of the pelagic fishery. Results are pertinent to WPRFMC social science research priorities. In particular, this study will be useful in the development of a monitoring system for classifying fishing styles and motivations. This is needed to improve measurements of fishing activities required for the determination of optimum yield, and also to determine the consequences of policy decisions for the cultural and social condition of the fishery. It is further hoped that concepts presented in this study will be of use to social scientists who plan fishery research in the Western Pacific.

Appendices to this report include an annotated bibliography of related troll and handline surveys in Hawai'i and reproductions of corresponding survey instruments, and an introduction to the study of local knowledge, among other materials.

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This page updated August 22, 2006