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Recruitment, training and retention: Research in OFI Module I-2

by María Andrée López Gómez

This study will inform us how governance and socio-ecological changes have shaped the way people learn to fish, who they fish with, when and where they fish and how this has affected recruitment and retention in fisheries work. 

Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. ©Vesna Kerezi

I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Sociology Department at Memorial University  conducting research in Sub-module I-2 at the Ocean Frontier Institute. The aim of this sub-module is to understand which factors and dynamics play a role in the recruitment, training and retention (RTR) of people into small-scale fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). There have been many socio-ecological changes in the past 30 years and our research question examines the relationship between these changes and recruitment, training and retention of fisheries workers. These changes are linked to the collapse of groundfish stocks and related moratoria (starting in 1992), changing ecosystems, and governance-related changes in access to licenses and quotas, mediated by a professionalization process with related formal requirements for training/experience that initiated in 1997. Our specific aims are to:

1. Document the experiences and understandings of fish harvesters (owner-operators and crew), new entrants and potential entrants related to recruitment, training and retention in fisheries. 

2. Identify fish harvesters’ perceptions and attitudes towards work in the fisheries sector.

3. Map the changes in policies, professionalization, fishing licences and fisheries workforce from 1990 to present. 

This research builds on previous work conducted by Dr. Nicole Power (Sub-module lead) and Dr. Barbara Neis (Sub-module co-lead) on recruitment and labour issues in NL and transfers research designs used in recruitment and retention research in Norwegian fisheries to the Newfoundland and Labrador context. This study uses a mixed-methods approach combining survey data with interview data. 

Co-investigator Jahn Petter Johnsen and his team in Tromsø designed a survey for fish harvesters that aimed to understand the adaptations and rationalities of this population. We adapted the Norwegian survey to the Newfoundland and Labrador context to investigate what are the motivations and experiences of owner-operators and crew members in the fisheries sector and what are the obstacles and opportunities they encounter to start work fishing. 

The survey was developed online using the Qualtrics platform available at Memorial University. We aim to launch the survey on October 2020 with the help of the Professional Fish Harvester Certification Board (PFHCB) and other fisheries-related organizations that want to contribute to disseminate the survey among fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are two surveys available: one for owner-operators and one for crew members. Both surveys contain questions about how COVID-19 affected work in the fishery in 2020, but most questions focus on the 2019 fishery as we expect the 2020 season to be significantly different from previous seasons. Questions on the 2019 fishery focus on current and future perceptions and experiences of fisheries work. 

Information from the survey will be complemented with interview data, a review of the literature and a look at longitudinal administrative data related to fishing licences and socio-demographic characteristics of professional fish harvesters. Recruitment for interviews will begin this fall via social media channels and interviews will be conducted by phone or by Zoom/Skype when available. 

Preliminary results from the literature review and administrative data point to a significant change of the fish harvester labour force. Both the number of commercial fishing licences and certified fish harvesters has decreased in the past two decades. Findings from other research and the grey literature point to links between restructuring processes and a reduced labour force in the fishery. For example, the DFO policy that allows fish harvesters to buddy-up (an arrangement that allows two licence holders for the same species, fishing area and gear type to fish from the same vessel) prompted a reduction of employment opportunities in the fisheries, as licence holders would crew for each other as opposed to hire crew members in the community. With interviews and survey results we will be able to map out the influence that governance changes had on the dynamics of fishery work. Insight from interviews with people interested in the fishery will also clarify what is needed for intergenerational equity in small-scale fisheries.    

This study will inform us how governance and socio-ecological changes have shaped the way people learn to fish, who they fish with, when and where they fish and how this has affected recruitment and retention in fisheries work. Our findings have the potential to inform fisheries management policies that currently do not take into account issues of recruitment and retention in the fisheries sector. 

In addition to my core work in Sub-module I-2, as a postdoctoral fellow with OFI I have been able to connect with other social and physical researchers focused on ecosystem approaches to fisheries management, access to markets and social licence in aquaculture. I recently joined the Working Group on the North West Atlantic Regional Sea (WGNARS) from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to collaborate on the evaluation of potential indicators for human dimensions within the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management. Please take a look at a previous publication about this and other collaborations here.

Written by María Andrée López Gómez

María Andrée López Gómez is a postdoctoral fellow in the Sociology Department at Memorial University, funded by the Ocean Frontier Institute. She works in sub-module I-2 investigating issues of recruitment, training and retention of people into small-scale fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador. As an Occupational Health Epidemiologist, María has worked doing research on labour market policies and organizational policies and how they impact workers’ health and well-being outcomes.  

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