By Kaety Hildenbrand, Oregon Sea Grant
(Editor’s Note: Kaety Hildenbrand works with the commercial fishing industry, ocean users, researchers, and the marine energy industry to address a variety of ocean issues ranging from collaborative research to wave energy development. She plays a critical role with NNMREC outreach and engagement.)
I have been attempting to write this blog post for the past week. Writing about stakeholder outreach and engagement in marine renewable energy should be easy enough; it’s what I do for a living. But, my mind is elsewhere, it’s with Oregon’s commercial Dungeness crab fleet.
As I am writing this, we are in the first hours of the 2012 commercial Dungeness crab season. Statistically this is the most profitable time for the fleet, and the most dangerous. At this very moment, many vessels are stuck in the ocean as the Yaquina Bay bar is too dangerous to cross. One vessel lost its wheelhouse windows trying to get in. Luckily it was only the windows that didn’t make it; the crew and vessel are home safe. My phone is three inches from my keyboard, waiting for the call that the bar has improved and that our vessels are making it in, or for the other kind of call, the ones I hate, the one that means someone isn’t coming home. I get at least one of those a year. It’s the one part of working with fishermen that I hate.
There are different ways of working with stakeholders, but if you do it right, you too will be lamenting with worry over whatever it is the people you build a relationship with face. This is the real truth of working with ocean stakeholders, the piece that you never see in a publication on “working with stakeholders”, which is why I am deciding to leave the above piece in.
There are all kinds of methods and best practices on the subject, I’ve even put my two cents in on some of those pieces, but what it really comes down to is a connection, a trust, a relationship. I can name fishermen in each port that I have worked with on wave energy issues. But, that isn’t what’s important, not really. What’s important is that I can tell you their wife’s name, how many kids they have, the name of their dog, I can describe the inside of their vessels, tell you what kind of truck they drive, and what kind of drink they order at Starbucks. They could do the same for me. I didn’t need to know any of this, I wasn’t asked to find it out, and I didn’t do it to gain something. It’s part of building a true relationship with someone, its part of doing what’s right, its part of what happens when you focus on building trust and not getting buy-in. I work with some people who hate the idea of marine renewable energy, but I still have a relationship with them. They’ll pester me with negative perspective for the duration of our time together, and then give me a hug before I leave. Just thinking of those times and people makes me smile. They mark the path of doing what’s right. Of focusing on people, not problems, of working with those that agree and those that do not. The fishermen on their boats right now, risking their lives to bring us crab, are partners, collaborators, and friends. Part of an intricate tapestry of people, culture, and lives that have become NNMREC’s story.
I have had 8 years of this work and I can honestly say I have enjoyed every minute of it – well almost. There are many memories burned into a deep place in my brain and heart. I’ll never forget watching the Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy (FINE) committee draw on a NOAA chart with a Sharpie pen, the space which would eventually become NNMREC’s open ocean test berth. A big step for NNMREC, OSU, Oregon, and the nation took place that day, at a table filled with fishermen, each with a paper plate filled with pie in their hand.
NNMREC’s story isn’t just about fishermen. No it goes far beyond that. It’s county commissioners and mayors, senators and congressman, scientists and ocean managers, a family at the HMSC visitor center, students at Newport High School, people who read the newspaper, and a whole lot of other folks I’m not mentioning. NNMREC has been built by people engaging with it, in it, for it. For all of you reading this that have been a piece of this story, thank you for that. Thank you for being a piece of OSU’s wave energy story, of NNMREC’s story, and of mine. I look forward to continuing the journey with all of you and with those of you that are yet to come to the table.