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The Role of Local Ecological Knowledge in the Conservation and Management of Reef Fish Spawning Aggregations

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Reef Fish Spawning Aggregations: Biology, Research and Management

Part of the book series: Fish & Fisheries Series ((FIFI,volume 35))

Abstract

Knowledge of the existence, location and timing of reef fish spawning aggregations is largely obtained from Local Ecological Knowledge in the fishing communities that exploit, or once exploited them. This information is typically collected by interviewing, followed, ideally, by validation by visiting and surveying reported aggregation sites. Conducting interviews is a relatively simple process that can be extremely productive but only if the interviewees are engaged and selected carefully (by gear, location, age, etc.), the interviewer is knowledgeable, prepared and gains the respect of the interviewee, and the various limitations of interviews as a source of information are clearly understood. Moreover, to ensure that information cannot potentially be misused and can be effectively applied to management and conservation, it is important that it is not only validated, and shared and communicated appropriately, but that it is integrated into the relevant scientific framework, and that confidentiality is respected as necessary. We review a range of studies from around the tropics based on the interview approach, evaluate its effectiveness against validated aggregations, and provide guidelines for what we believe to be good interview practices.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to express our sincere thanks to all of the fishers who have supported our work over the past two decades. Their local knowledge and the lessons they have taught us form the foundations of this chapter. We are grateful for the editing assistance provided by Rachel Wong and we would also like to thank Richard Walter, Kenneth Ruddle and Simon Foale for reviewing and providing helpful comments on an earlier version of this chapter. YSM and RH particularly acknowledge the early ground-breaking work of Bob Johannes in collecting LEK on spawning aggregations in the Pacific; both of us have learned a lot from our acquaintance and work with him and dedicate this chapter to him. Finally, we thank the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for the financial assistance they have provided for many of the studies that are reported herein.

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Appendix 10.1 Basic Points to Remember When Preparing and Conducting Interviews and Applying Outcomes for Conservation, Management and Education

Appendix 10.1 Basic Points to Remember When Preparing and Conducting Interviews and Applying Outcomes for Conservation, Management and Education

  1. 1.

    Preparing for a trip

    • Clearly and concisely determine the intention/objective of the interview-based study.

    • Obtain necessary permits and establish contacts or community permissions as well as understand local social protocols.

    • Conduct meetings or give presentations to collaborators or government officials regarding purpose and relevance of work.

    • Conduct background reading to prepare yourself about the fishery and fish species so that you can also provide information on the species to interviewees and assess information quality during interviews. Inform yourself not just of the target species but of aggregating species in general and experiences from overseas with aggregations so you can you provide examples and experiences from elsewhere.

    • Learn the local names of the fish if necessary; they can change a lot, even between villages. Names can also refer to species groups and not just species. Note that different names might apply to different life history stages.

    • Prepare cards with photos of fish from the area, both live and dead to accommodate different experiences of the species. Include photos from fish not in the area as a control.

    • Purchase or prepare good marine maps of the area.

    • Careful selection of interviewees, by gear, age group, area, peer review etc., is very important; stratify sampling if possible.

    • Need to select appropriate vocabulary – be sure that key words or concepts are clearly conveyed in ways that will be unambiguously understood.

    • In many settings providing items such as coffee, cigarettes, batteries or biscuits during the interview is culturally appropriate and helps to break down barriers between the interviewee and interviewer. However, determine whether or not it is appropriate to provide gifts to interviewees in each situation; differences in local practices can mean that giving rewards/incentive is sometimes insulting and sometimes expected. Rewards can show appreciation for time spent but should not be the incentive for the interview. Care is needed.

    • Ensure proper dress codes – many communities are traditional and expect certain behaviour, especially by females.

    • Carefully select interviewers; they should be knowledgeable about the resource, the fishery and the community, patient, open-minded and communicative. It is very important that interviewers are prepared to discuss their findings to communities, provide useful information to interviewees and gain their respect. Interviewers, ideally, should be knowledgeable on relevant issues internationally, including general matters of fishery management options.

    • Consider filming or oral recording interviews, with permission, for later media or educational activities.

  2. 2.

    During a trip

    • Make clear to the interviewee what the interview is about, why you are requesting it and what you will do with the information.

    • Continually work to establish your own credibility through your knowledge – you will get respect and better responses. It would be useful to be introduced by credible people. Make clear that you respect the knowledge of interviewees

    • Use open-ended and semi-structured questions during interviews and while participating in fishing, etc.

    • Go fishing when possible with interviewee and inspect fish/catches when possible.

    • Prepare a minimum subset of questions that are the most important to conduct: fishers might be tired and not have much time or patience.

    • Be courteous and respectful and try to be engaging.

    • Focus clearly on one species at a time and confirm species with photos. Always indicate in your notes what information applies to which species.

    • Ask about opinions and likely causes of observed trends.

    • Decide whether to conduct group or one-on-one interviews.

    • Be open-minded and allow time for conversations to go off in multiple directions but also focus on the key questions you intend to cover – this is another reason the interviewer must have a sound knowledge of the subject. Don’t dismiss information that sounds unlikely but follow up with further questions.

    • Be patient and prepared to be flexible with your travel schedule – i.e. spend extra time in an area if it proves productive, or move on early if necessary and factor in delays.

    • Repeat questions in different ways to check reliability of interviewees.

    • Use every opportunity to exchange information and discuss interesting aspects of the life history of locally taken species. This is yet another reason for interviewers to be informed and prepared.

    • Ask comparative questions, i.e. ‘more or less fish than before?’ and pick large time periods for temporal comparisons (such as decades). If you ask about proportions or percentages, make sure that this concept is understood.

    • It may be necessary to talk about ‘maximum’ or ‘best’ catches since average or typical catches may not be well understood or not remembered. Try to quantify catches in kg or whatever is the local measure that is widely used (coolers, fish bundles, etc.), and catch rates in a consistent way. This will allow for a quantification and comparison of results.

    • Don’t just ask which species spawn and when; interviewees may have no idea about this even if they have seen spawning. Ask instead about the direct and indirect indicators of spawning such as seasonal highs in landings, eggs, concentrations, etc., good and bad seasons for catches. Ask about presence of eggs, moon phase, etc., behavioural or colour changes, etc. Adjust questions according to fishing method.

    • Could work closely with local Government/NGOs who will later be involved in management while conducting interviews. Often it is better to not be accompanied by those who usually enforce or get taxes.

    • It may be better to leave sensitive issues, like income, out of biological surveys.

    • Make a note about possible reliability or otherwise of interviewee.

    • Don’t assume that everybody can easily read a map or have good recall or follows moon phases.

    • Write down notes immediately; also allows for refining and going back to responses before leaving an area. This is especially important if recording interviews.

    • Seek opinion about why changes occur if changes are noted.

    • Be sensitive about difficulties that might arise due to gender of interviewer/ee.

    • Seek to provide immediate feedback to the community and encourage discussion of interview outcomes before leaving the area.

  3. 3.

    Follow up to a trip

    • Follow up with any promises made to communities/individuals. People often ask for photos, so be sure to make appropriate arrangements.

    • Produce a report that is shared with communities and collaborators, and at least provide a preliminary report before leaving the country or very soon thereafter.

    • Give presentations on outcomes of work and indicate how to apply the findings.

    • If appropriate, talk about outcomes in various media.

    • For non-nationals, be available even having left the country, for providing additional information.

    • Follow up with educational materials if necessary.

    • Be sure to reflect back to the communities visited, in the appropriate format, the outcomes of the interviews and the broader implications of the study findings. Identify possible studies that are needed to address original objectives or to address fisher concerns or questions identified during the interview process.

    • Be sure to respect the information provided; this should not be released into the public domain unnecessarily, especially in the case of site-specific information, and not before the relevant conservation or management has been put in place. However, information will be needed for local planning.

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Hamilton, R., de Mitcheson, Y.S., Aguilar-Perera, A. (2012). The Role of Local Ecological Knowledge in the Conservation and Management of Reef Fish Spawning Aggregations. In: Sadovy de Mitcheson, Y., Colin, P. (eds) Reef Fish Spawning Aggregations: Biology, Research and Management. Fish & Fisheries Series, vol 35. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-1980-4_10

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