On Thursday, July 12th, my mentor Dr. Beth Marino and I joined a virtual meeting. I had high hopes; for four weeks I had been waiting to hear if I had approval to conduct my primary research project, which was to interview fishermen up and down the Oregon coast. The work I had been doing up until this point was constructive for my own understanding of coastal attitudes and was applicable to the broader goals of the Human Dimensions Project of the ODFW Marine Reserves Program, but it didn’t feel like something I could own. Granted, the results of this well-being survey, which no doubt I will outline in my final blog post in a couple of weeks, fascinate me because they get to the root of how people think. They reveal the lenses by which people view the world, and the thought processes they engage in when confronted with change. I invested the time in making sense of these responses, but I was not involved in the initial process of helping those responses emerge.
This distinction is important to me because other than being a scientist, I am also an artist, a dancer. Creating and leaving my own mark on the world is a part of my character. This is why I was itching to get started on what I was brought to Oregon to do in the first place: to help stories be heard.
On Thursday, July 12th, we were virtually meeting with a member of Oregon State University’s Institutional Review Board who would decide if the revisions associated with my involvement in Beth’s project could adequately protect the confidentiality of the interviewees. Already a week delayed, we thought this would be the day. But not quite.
I had an interview lined up for the next day that I had to reschedule (which, in retrospect, was for the better–I wasn’t prepared for a daylong road-trip, despite my eagerness).
So I waited until Monday while Beth meticulously worked at getting the project revision approved. Noon ticked by, and I still hadn’t heard. One fisherman was ready to meet 45 minutes away, and I was just waiting to have the go ahead.
I got the text message at 4 pm. And the rest of my summer began.
Without hesitation I gathered my recording equipment, hopped into the state car, and was on my way to Depoe Bay. My first interview exceeded all expectations: the fisherman I spoke with was very open about his responses, could see the world from multiple perspectives, and had a rich understanding of both his community and the biological world that his work depends upon. We had conversations about the marine reserves, management practices, conservation, and his life as a fisher…all of which lasted for 1 hour and 40 minutes (for perspective, we anticipate good interviews to last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours). I drove back home beaming, for I felt like this was the type of work I was meant to do.
The next interview was two days later and 80 miles north of Newport in a beautiful place called Garibaldi. To hear my first impression and thoughts right after rolling up to the coffee shop, watch this video. Garibaldi is situated in a beautiful slice of the Oregon coast right where the ocean pours into a freshwater valley. The neighboring town is Tillamook, famous for their dairy products, and while driving back I got the chance to briefly check out what the town is so famous for.
My second interview was entirely different from the first; this fisherman was a fourth generation fisher, and his sons and grandchildren are continuing the culture. His operation runs from Alaska to California and they catch everything from salmon to Dungeness crab. This hour and 20 minute long conversation, which touched on the same themes as before, went in entirely different directions–especially with respect to conservation and management. Being involved in multiple states, he noted that he felt a difference in how management and policy-making decisions were handled in Alaska versus Oregon. Though the “Oregon Way,” or the culture of public inclusion in government decision-making, is perceived as prevalent in Oregon, this fisher suggested that based on the model of Alaska there is room for improvement. He wished managers had more of an open door to those involved in commercial resource industries.
These interviews are intended to measure the impacts of the marine reserves on people in the commercial and charter fishing community, but this point illustrates how these conversations can be applied to issues beyond the marine reserves. They aim to represent a voice not typically heard, and so long as they are representative of the fishing community as a whole, these words can be used to inform management practices and policy. Local knowledge from fishers about the ocean itself can help scientists design more effective studies. These conversations can open the door to more constructive dialogues about how we as humans relate to our environment.
So far, these fishers have expressed that they want responsible management. They advocate for science that supports their livelihoods. They want more research. They don’t all see eye to eye on every issue, but as far as I have heard, science is not the enemy.
This is just the beginning for me, and I am sure that I will interview people with more divergent opinions than my own. And it will be a challenge for me to steer the conversation in the right direction, but I am confident that I will be able to do it. Divergent opinions, as long as they don’t harm other people, I believe are healthy for society. I love listening to how other people see the world, with a grain of salt. And sometimes, beautiful narratives emerge.
When I was first being trained by Beth, she was telling me and my other mentor, Dr. Tommy Swearingen, about an interview she had just completed that had brought her to tears. She told me that there is something about the openness of the interview environment that allows people (both the interviewee and the interviewer) to divulge stories that in typical settings wouldn’t be discussed. On my fourth interview in Newport, I experienced a genuine, moving moment like this. I asked him if his life as a fisherman was fulfilling, and as he spoke I could tell he loved his line of work. He said every morning he got up at 4:30 am, made his black coffee, made plans for the day, and couldn’t wait to venture out on the boat. I wish you could have heard him say this, for I could feel his joy and it made my eyes blur. He loves this life.
I get paid to be moved by the stories of others. I cannot be more grateful that this is how I am spending my summer.