The Gulf Aquarium and Marine Station Cooperative: Fishermen’s Forum 2014

by Andrea Flynn, GAMS

Hello CaNOE-ers!

Andrea Flynn here from the Gulf Aquarium and Marine Station Cooperative in Grand Etang, Nova Scotia! I was fortunate enough to become involved with the CaNOE gang earlier this year and I would now like to share how we are working to advance Ocean Literacy and encourage continued ocean learning within coastal communities and industries in Nova Scotia.

Our “Local Knowledge Board”
Our “Local Knowledge Board”

The Gulf Aquarium and Marine Station Cooperative (referred to as GAMS) is based on three pillars, Education, Research, and Community. In our rural, fishing community setting, we offer a place where locals and visitors (we are situated very near to the entrance of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park) can come to learn about the ocean and its creatures. We work with universities, government, and other groups to conduct research on fisheries and the oceans (ocean acidification sampling, invasive species monitoring, oyster aquaculture, to name a few topics). And finally, we work within the community, hosting summer camps for kids, engaging volunteers to conduct research, hosting events, and gathering local knowledge about the oceans, coasts, and fisheries. Now you have a general idea of what we do.

Kids play and learn at the GAMS summer camp.
Kids play and learn at the GAMS summer camp.

What I would really like to talk about now is an event that we held on November 6 and 7 in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia called the “Fishermen’s Forum 2014: Conversations on Climate Change.” This event brought together fishermen, researchers, government, and community members to talk about how climate change is affecting the fisheries and how fishermen and researchers can work together to conduct research effectively. Most importantly we wanted these groups to be in one room together so they could learn from each other. Fishermen could learn about what climate change and fisheries research is being done by academia and government, and academia and government could listen to what the fishermen are seeing everyday on the water. I am proud to say that we had over 50 participants at the event, representing over 30 organizations—a success in our books!

Participants at the forum listened to panel discussions, a keynote address, and participated in small working groups. One of the goals of the workshop was to explore the ways that climate change is affecting our fisheries. Participants talked about invasive species that are new to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and are impacting the fisheries, such as green crabs and tunicates. Local observations were shared on the changes happening in the water and to marine species. Many people were talking about warming water temperatures, the effects of ocean acidification, and changes in storm frequency and intensity. There were many local accounts of species either decreasing in abundance (e.g., eels, smelts, mackerel, and herring), or increasing (e.g., lobster, tuna, seals, halibut, and jellyfish).

Fisherman, Alfred Deveau of Cheticamp, NS, talk to a small group at the Fishermen’s Forum.
Fisherman, Alfred Deveau of Cheticamp, NS, talk to a small group at the Fishermen’s Forum.

Of course, many questions regarding how these observed changes are related to climate change remain unanswered. This is where collaborative research enters the discussion. Fishermen and researchers must work together to try and answer questions about why changes are happening, what changes can be expected in the future, and how we will adapt to these changes. You can say that fishermen are the local experts on what is happening in the environment on a day-to-day basis, while the researchers are the experts on designing the experiments that are required to answer questions. As Ted Ames from the Penobscot East Resource Center said during his keynote address:

“You can take fishermen’s knowledge and integrate it with global warming (data) and get a serious leg up on the processes that are happening in the system… what an incredible tool, to have an extra thousand set of eyes operating virtually every day (the fishermen), providing information about what’s going on with characteristics associated with global warming.”

Fishermen are also key when it comes to gathering data, as they have the boats, equipment, and knowledge to go out on the water. Researchers are often not able to go out and collect all of their own data and build up all of the intimate knowledge that is required to fully answer research questions. As Michael Orr from Cape Breton University said during his keynote address:

“Science can’t afford to be solely the domain of (scholarly) experts… they need help.”

And of course, this help should come from the other experts who are on the water every day, interacting with the environment and the fish—the fishermen.
Although the Fishermen’s Forum may not have been directly advancing ocean literacy and its seven principles, there was certainly a lot of learning happening in the room regarding the oceans, fisheries, and climate change. We hope that this event will kick off better communication between fishermen and researchers so that they can work and learn together—effectively advancing a better understanding of our impacts on the global ocean and the ocean’s impacts on us.

Please visit us online at www.cmag-gams.org and join our Facebook page (Gulf Aquarium and Marine Station Cooperative) to stay up to date on our projects!