Compile the knowledge and perspectives of local fishermen to inform collaborative efforts to reduce pelagic shark mortality.
Anecdotal evidence has revealed harmful shark handling practices in Hawaiʻi's small-scale fisheries as well as fisher willingness to modify these practices following engagement with scientists. This evidence, along with the oceanic whitetip shark's (OWT) recent listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), creates a timely opportunity to apply a collaborative, early-engagement approach to shark mortality issues. If there are ways to reduce shark-fisher interactions, these strategies could be mutually beneficial for both shark populations and fishermen.
How do Hawaiʻi's small-scale fishers perceive/interact with:
1) One another?
2) Pelagic sharks?
3) Fisheries managers and scientists?
Fisher background (n = 28)
Our sample to date includes charter, commercial, and spearfishermen. Their pelagic fishing methods include trolling with lures and bait for sportfish, and handlining for ahi and bottomfish. All but one participant spoke of an emotional connection to fishing or being on the water. These were related variably to feelings of peace, the thrill of catching, and freedom.
Participants describe the West Hawaiʻi community as relatively harmonious and cooperative, though fishing information is shared cautiously due to high levels of fishery participation. Information related to fishery management and science is obtained (if at all) through word of mouth, social media, key community members, and Council newsletters.
Nearly all participants view shark interactions as undesirable. Many describe them as an inevitable part of fishing in the sharks' environment. Though OWT are found reliably near buoys or following pilot whale pods, they are relatively uncommon compared to interactions with other species (among them, thresher, tiger, sandbar, mako, and Galápagos sharks). Perceptions and handling practices may be species-specific based on factors like fishing method, safety, shark behavior, and shark prevalence.
Managers and scientists
Several participants described a mistrust or perceived illegitimacy of management and scientific personnel, citing specific personal experiences. However, many also expressed appreciation for scientists' sincere efforts to engage with the fishing community. Many charter fishermen expressed lower levels of concern for and engagement by fisheries management.
We conduct a case study of West Hawaiʻi's small-scale fisheries, taking a qualitative, inductive approach to capture the social-ecological complexities of the issue. Fieldwork began in the fall of 2017 and consists primarily of semi-structured interview with fishermen. Research participants are identified through snowball sampling. Observational data is collected to complement interview data as opportunities arise (e.g. during public shark tagger training meetings or fishing charters).
An awareness campaign may have potential to change fisher attitudes and behaviors toward OWT due to the infrequency of OWT encounters and lack of widespread knowledge about its ESA status. Scientists and managers may benefit from social media or key community actors for their outreach efforts. Additionally, the fact that interactions between sharks and fishers are highly undesirable means reducing them can become a collective goal shared by fishers, scientists, and managers. Successful collaboration, however, hinges on trust building between these actors and defining tangible benefits for participating fishers.