Dissertation on the Salmon closure 2006

The social implications of the present commercial salmon fishing regulations on the traditional salmon fishermen in the village of Cheekpoint.


Andrew Doherty

Dissertation submitted in part fulfilment of the requirements of the Batchelor of Arts in Adult & Community Education.

Waterford Institute of Technology Adult & Community Education Department

MAY 2008
Supervisor:  Maeve O Grady

Contents                                                                                  Page No
Introduction                                                                                        3
Methodology                                                                                      4         
Approach                                                                                4
            Data Collection                                                                       5
            Ethical Factors                                                                        7
            Limitations                                                                             8
Literature review                                                                                 9
The Cheekpoint Salmon Fishery                                                           15
Government Regulations 1970’s to 2007                                               19
Findings of primary research                                                                24
Analysis of findings                                                                            27
Conclusion                                                                                          31
References                                                                                          33
Bibliography                                                                                       34       

Cheekpoint is a small rural Irish fishing village.  Salmon was the principal fishing resource.  However as Ireland modernised pressures from outside the village impacted on the ability of local fishers to derive a sustainable income.  Using a critical ethnographic approach the research seeks the views of local fishermen on the social impacts of the changes to the fishery and explores these impacts in the light of modernisation theory.  The research charts the development of a rival sea fishery to the traditional river based activity, the role of government in regulating this and the subsequent demise of the fishery.  A key conclusion is that although the fishery was vital to local identity of fishermen and the sustainability of the villages long term economic and social future, the ability of government or society at large to understand and appreciate this is very doubtful.

The school of thought underpinning this research is Interpretivism.  This paradigm has been utilised internationally for many years, yet in Ireland sociological research has been predominantly Postivitist.  (Tovey & Share 2003). 

This positivist paradigm believes that human behaviour is essentially rule-governed, and that it should be investigated by the methods of natural, hard, science.  The positivist, normative researcher looks to theory to establish how reality hangs together or how it might be changed. (Cohen et al 2007)  An interpretive approach is concerned for the individual, its purpose is to understand the subjective world of human experience.  (ibid)

Therefore in this research I used qualitative methods, and a theoretical perspective of critical ethnography.   I chose ethnography because the research is based on my own community.  critical ethnography is concerned with the exposure of oppression and inequality in society with a view to emancipating individuals and groups towards collective empowerment. (Ibid)

Data Collection
There are 5 stages in the research methodology
Stage 1: compiling primary record
Stage 2: Preliminary reconstructive analysis
Stage 3: Dialogical data collection
Stage 4: Discovering system relations
Stage 5: Using system relations to explain findings
(Ibid p187-8)

At stage 1researchers are comparatively passive, participant observers.  By watching and listening a greater sense of the issues and people involved emerges and helps to clarify the research brief and, potentially, the validity of the exercise.  (Cohen et al p 187).  Stage 1 was achieved by talking with fishermen and residents from Cheekpoint as the opportunity arose in the weeks leading up to the research.

Stage 2 is the preliminary reconstructive analysis.  Arising out of the conversations a number of key points emerged which focused the most relevant to the fishery and village.  Through this process I came to understand that my own initial impressions were too simplistic.  I realised for example that how fishermen had been treated in the past was a crucial element to how they perceived the present. Emerging out of this process then I refined my original thinking and factored in some of the concerns as identified by those I had spoken with.  Again this process enhanced the validity of the research in “recovering the taken-for-granted components of meaning or abstractions that participants have of a situation – to identify the value systems, norms, key concepts that are guiding and underpinning situations.” (Ibid p 187)

In Stage 3, I undertook the dialogical data collection.  The sampling technique I employed was purposive. I identified 2 fishermen from the village, a sample percentage of 20%.  (Although there were 30 license holders in 2006 about 10 boats fished regularly).  Both men had a family tradition of fishing. They were also involved in the local community with various groups and associations. Rather than setting questions I decided to concentrate on the key areas that emerged out of stage 1 & 2.  I negotiated an hour with each man to sit and chat about the fishery.  As this conversation developed I made handwritten notes on the discussion but also pointedly asked, where required, for clarification or input on specific areas.

The 5 key areas for discussion were:
Historical impacts on the management of the fishery
Where the impetus of recent legislation has come from
Whether this has impacted socially on the fisherman, his family, and the community
Ideas they consider viable for the sustainability of the fishing community
What structures need to be put in place to achieve this sustainability? 

These key areas were not prompted to the interviewees except where they did not emerge in the conversation.  I did my best to remain in active listening mode and only clarified as I felt was necessary.  Stage 3 facilitates the participants and the researcher in “...discussing the data with the participants, asking them to reflect on their own situations, circumstances and lives and begin to theorize about their lives...(which)... democratizes the research”.  (Ibid p 188)

Stage 4 involves discovering system relations between the fishing community in Cheekpoint and the wider decision makers and the effects that this has.  This process was gleamed from a process of reflection on the exchanges with fishermen and their interpretation of these.  I was also interested to note my own thinking and reflection as a member of the community.   In this case, I decided to concentrate on the 3rd key area and specifically the community impacts, because of space constraints.

Following on from this Stage 5 uses system relations to explain findings based on the documentary sources accessed. 

Ethical Factors
The ethical factors in this research relate to the privacy of the participants and their confidentiality being maintained.  To overcome this both men are identified as participant 1 or 2 in the research.  Each man signed a permission slip, and was advised that they could drop out of the research at any time.  They also saw their response and were allowed to clarify or withdraw them and saw several drafts of the research as it proceeded for their input.

Ethnographic and naturalistic approaches have problems which are worth noting.  Of the ten recorded by Cohen et al I relate the three most appropriate:
1. The Halo effect: the researcher’s belief in the goodness of participants, such that the more negative aspects of their behaviour or personality are neglected or overlooked.
2. Focusing on the familiar: being too close to the situation so that certain aspects of it are neglected. The researcher has to make the familiar strange.
3. How to write up multiple realities and explanations. What if the researcher sees things that are not seen by the participants?
(Ibid p 189-90)

Researchers using this methodology, work directly with experience and understanding to build theory on them. The data thus yielded will include the meanings and purposes of those people who are their source. Further, the theory so generated must make sense to those to whom it applies. Theory becomes sets of meanings which yield insight and understanding of people’s behaviour.   The hope of a universal theory is given up; theories are as varied as the situations and contexts that affect people.  (Ibid)

Literature review

There is a wealth of government produced information on sea fishing and salmon fishing specifically.  However, such publications are limited, or void of any interpretative or critical analysis.  Much of the wider sociological or academic material that I have accessed has no direct bearing on the fishing sector in Ireland.  Utilising Athens as a means of securing information was at times frustrating because despite thousands of potential articles and books, few related to Ireland and none related to traditional fisheries in Ireland

Some international research was relevant however; Salmi (2005) examined the traditional sector in Finland and Subramanian’s (2003) account of traditional (Artisinal) fishing communities in India.  The relevance was the commonality between what they observed and my own observations in Cheekpoint.  These could be grouped into such issues as; older traditional methods of fishing against modern methods, smaller traditional crafts vrs “trawlerisation” and mistrust with officialdom.   However, socially, culturally and politically they were far removed from the Irish experience.

Lack of research into the traditional sector or using qualitative methods, whilst disappointing is not surprising.  Gillmore (1987: p 166) points out that “There have been technical and policy reports, but the Irish sea fishing industry has received surprisingly little treatment in the academic literature.”  If our government and academic institutions have little interest in our sea fishery, it would be no surprise to find it totally ignoring the traditional river fishery.  Tovey & Share (2003: Pp23-41 ) critique the depth of social research carried out in Ireland  They highlight the lack of interpretive, critical research and highlight an overreliance on positivist, fact gathering research that tends towards particular social or state concerns.  Summarising Kane and Bonner they state “...it is ultimately the absence of a strong phenomenological or interprevitist strand in Irish sociology that is most problematic and puzzling” (Ibid p39)

Examples of positivist writings include Gillmore (1987), Molloy (2004) or de Courcey Ireland (1981) John de Courcey Ireland’s (1911 – 2006) Ireland’s Sea Fisheries, a History looks at the movement of the fishery from its earliest times to late seventies.  Although a scholarly, passionate and insightful text it none the less concentrates on the sea fishery, ignoring in my view the river based fisheries.  Through it, he advocates for the development and modernisation of the fishery via larger more technological boats, research, training, investment and the use of the market.  His final line remarks that “...it is difficult to forecast the future exactly except to say that it will be one of growth.” (1981: 180). 

These concepts of growth, market forces, investment or that even bigger is better subscribe to a definition of development of society through modernisation.  Tovey & Share explain that in late modernising societies such as Ireland the State has a key role to play.  Often it is promoted and sustained by “...intellectuals and professionals often educated or trained in an ‘advanced’ society, who express ideas about becoming ‘modern’ that support and amplify the state efforts.”  (2003:76)

Weber (1864-1920) believed that with modernisation comes a need for control of the population with the move from traditional culture and ways of being (customary action).  Decision making needs to be rationalised through a system of bureaucratisation.  A system evolves through planning with civil servants at its head to create the new rules and ways of being for people: rational action. (Ibid pp 8-16)

Whatever about the origins of the modern Irish state the current trend in decision making in Irish society is a Corportist model of governance, where by specific interest groups gain access to decision making in partnership with government.  Rational decisions are then taken by these groups (supported by the govt bureaucracy) who guarantee the support of their individual sectoral interests.  The arrangement benefits the state as there is less conflict and resistance to state policies.  For groups outside this arrangement however, access to decisions or power can be denied.  (Ibid pp 85-8)

How has modernity impacted Irish fishing.  To answer this we will look to the developments in agriculture.  Tovey & Share describe the efforts of the Irish state to modernise farming.  This process began in the 50’s but really took hold in the 1960’s.  With key inputs from American practices towards the ‘food industry’ brought back by Irish born, American university trained agricultural ‘experts’.  This was the beginning of ‘productionism’ which concerned itself with “...narrow...productive function of agriculture...and disregarded other important functions such as provision of employment, the underpinning of a vibrant rural economy, or the care and management of the environment” (2003: p57)

Other features of modern farming involved the maximum distance between farm and family so that economic decision making is not clouded by family concerns typified as emotional or irrational decision making, Farm women were encouraged to withdraw from the activity and leave business to the men and that farmers should reject ‘local knowledge’ and depend of experts such as agriculture scientists and advisors to maximise the profits of their ‘farm business’.  (Ibid p55)  Three key changes are listed in terms of how farming is practiced.  However, these could very easily match changes in fishing.  They are specialisation, commoditisation and scientisation.   (Ibid. P 59-60)

All of these changes have brought significant change to rural communities.  An implied understanding of these changes is that those free to participate have access to significant financial, property and or educational resources to participate.  What happens to those rural dwellers in fishing communities who do not.

Tovey 1996 saw significant change in government policy in the nineties driven by EU policy.  The state began to look at wealth creation opportunities instead of jobs and to take a more national perspective instead of a regional or local view.  Therefore there was a key perspective shift in the country with a view that resources were there for the good of the state and that the effective development and utilisation of these resources would enhance the entire state and ‘trickle down’ to all.  However, those who were not able to participate in this were pushed further into the margins of rural society and their use and presence within the rural became increasingly questioned.  (1996: p132-4).  Haase (2007) explores rural deprivation indicators and coins the phrase “Opportunity Deprivation” to describe the lack of access that rural dwellers may have to work, education, health etc.  What is crucial is that where people live away from urban centres, the opportunities they have for a decent quality of life is much restricted. 

Fishing communities had particular issues however.  Peace (1996, 2001) highlights in particular the role of salmon fishing to depressed rural fishing communities as a means of injecting much needed money into the communities.  However there is a reluctance by rural dwellers to admitting problems or seeking help.  Rural poverty does not lend itself to easy definition.  For example in 1996 rural dwellers experienced poverty at 2/3 the rate to their urban counterparts.  Yet the image of poverty and disadvantage as understood in the country and portrayed by politics and media was of an urban wasteland, dangerous people, drug problems and hopelessness. (Curtain et al 1996).  The same report goes on to highlight that the struggle for rural communities to be recognised is further complicated by the “concentration of population, government, financial, business and educational institutions and the media in the cities” ibid P 76

Gorz quoted in Tovey & Share critiqued Marx from an environmental standpoint. Consumption is crucial to sustaining capitalism.  However, with increasing production and consumption come increasing environmental degradation.   Rather than trying to offset this, modern economies are looking for ways to sustain this through strategies defined by Gorz such as “Detrimental Appropriation” and “Exclusive Access”.  The former refers to the monopolising of scarce resources to a minority interest.  The latter, refers to the increase in value of a product where access is restricted.  (Ibid pp502 – 504)

Paulo Freire’s (1921-1997) spoke passionately on the need for those on the margins of society to be supported.  His vision of emancipatory education was very much contained in the practices of American educator and activist Myles Horton (1905 – 1990).  Horton’s folk schools worked with those on the margins of Americas south, but facilitated a move towards understanding and challenge to the dominant system.  (Jarvis, 2001: 242 – 257)

“Hortons belief in the imperative of peoples control over their own lives and the means of production paralled his belief in the control of the learning activity by a circle of learners whose experience and problems were being discussed...Dependancy on authority was...antithetical to freedom of thought and expression...”p251

Bradley (2003) explains the difficulties in working with men in rural areas of Donegal affected by marginalisation.  Working from Freirean principles, his contact, trust building and subsequent activities highlighted several issues invisible on the surface particularly; poor health, loneliness, depression, alcohol dependence and lack of education.  They are represented by no one and their lives and issues are not depicted on TV. This need for understanding and political action was never more necessary if isolated rural communities are to stand their ground against the dominant cultural, social, economic and political trend of this new century.

Cheekpoint fishery.
Cheekpoint is located 7 miles downstream from Waterford City.  Historically, the primary source of employment was the fishery.  The principal fishery was salmon which spanned from spring to autumn.  Using drift-netting, at its height would have employed up to 30 punts with a two man crew in each. This method of fishing has a long association with Cistercians (Jenkins: 1974: pp67-80) who came to the area in the 13th Century.

Undoubtedly the salmon fishery was the most rewarding financially and hence the most important.  It was always a changing and adapting way of existence, however the most significant changes started to occur in the early 1960’s.  Fishing had for years been an under resourced and mismanaged entity but the Fianna Fail government had plans for fishing and published a white paper to lay the ground work in 1962.  Essentially it was about modernising the fleet, expanding our waters and increasing the consumption of fish at home. (de Courcey Ireland, 1981)

Locally this led to big changes.  Fishermen were able to avail of hire purchase schemes to get new boats, Dunmore East was being developed to encourage sea fishing and new nets were being introduced, invisible Monofilament nets.  Fishermen in villages such as Cheekpoint were quick to realise the advantages of these nets and were (according to local sources) among the first to try the new technology on the sea.  Under license from the Regional Fishery Board, they we free to fish from Cheekpoint to Mine Head in west Waterford.

Coastal sea fishing in the past had been curtailed in relation to salmon.  The old style hemp nets were not suited to the development of a coastal sea fishery for salmon.  “...drifting was only effective at night time and with rough sea conditions with hemp nets.” (Jenkins p 201) Essentially it was too dangerous to expand.  However with the arrival of new types of netting fishing could be carried out in daylight and in good weather.  Although monofilament nets were illegal fishermen got around the legal issues by claiming that the nets were being used in ground fishing (for which they were perfectly legal). 

“Between the early 1960s and the early 1970s there was a marked increase in the number of drift net commercial licences (from 363 in 1962 to 1,048 in 1974), while the proportion of the overall salmon catch taken by drift nets rose from 19% in 1960 to 49% in 1970 and a peak of 84% by 1986.” (Indecon report, 2003: p.iv)

The increase in licences and catch was taking place on the coast, away from the traditional salmon fishermen in Cheekpoint.  If that had only meant a drop in income it would have been bad enough, but there were other factors in play.

The country at large was very aware of the dispute between government and driftnet fishermen on the coast, thanks in part to anglers raising the issue of falling catches and internationally via environmental organisations like Greenpeace.  There was a belief amongst fishermen that drift netting was the scapegoat, with agencies ignoring govt policy on forestation, agricultural pollution and housing developments all of which impacted on spawning grounds.  There were also murmurings about global warming and campaigns about natural predation by seals and cormorants.  None of which appeared to get any air time in the media.

There was pressure then to be seen to do something to curb over fishing.  However, patrolling the coast was extremely difficult and the ports along the coast were reputed to be no-go areas for the fishery patrols.  For more see Peace (1996: pp96-97)  Cheekpoint fishermen under financial pressures were forced into more desperate measures, taking risks with weekend and out of season fishing, and at times using monofilament nets even though they could be spotted from the shore.  What was suspected locally at the time was that bailiffs were using their patrols in estuary villages to make their efforts look good.  Reporting to their board they could indicate how many patrols, how many boats checked and the strings of nets seized.  They at least created the perception of doing something.

With each raid in the village came suspicion of who wasn’t caught and whether there were informers in the community.  Whatever about corruption in the village what later emerged was corruption in the Fishery board:  "...corruption at the highest level in The Southern Regional Fishery Board resulted in its chief executive been removed from his position and the dismissal of two senior fishery inspectors added further suspicion as to the reason why so many of the convictions at the time were against small boat owners who carried the least amount of nets.” (Marine Times June 2007)

This is an overview of the situation facing fishermen in the village of Cheekpoint.  It was a depressing time to try earn a living from fishing.  Without several means of income including social welfare it was practically impossible to make ends meet in the community.  Further pressures were added with the closure of Bell Lines Shipping, a main stay employer and industrial developments such as the building of Great Island Power plant and latterly the relocation to Waterford Port above the village which infringed on drifting rights and caused untold difficulties locally which are beyond the scope of this research. 

Also beyond the scope is a consideration of the representative bodies that were in place to support fishermen.  Generally, little is known locally of such groups.  Some committees started up ad hoc and petered out.  The Southern Regional Fishery Board was considered by many of relevance in the early years and a local man did represent the village.  Here again, little is known in the village of this structure.  In the next part we will look at government regulation, much of which was visited upon Cheekpoint, without any consultation or knowing. 

Government regulation 1970’s - 2007
As already noted Cheekpoint fishermen believe the government had not provided much leadership in the salmon drift-net sector.  There appeared to be no regulation on the coast and nothing but regulation in the rivers.   Despite this view, some research was being done.  For example there were three reviews of the salmon fishery including the Inland Fisheries Commission (1975) the Central Fisheries Board (1986) and the Salmon Review Group (1987).    Fundamentally they all said the same thing, the fishery on the coast needed to be controlled. 

The nineties continued with further studies and reports including; Radford et al 1991, Fingleton et al 1993, O.Connor et al 1994, Gargan et al 1997.  The build up of reports and media attention along with lobbying from fishermen for some resolutions around the issue led to the establishment of the Salmon Management Task Force in 1995.  The subsequent report led to new conservation measures introduced in 1997.  These measures significantly cut the salmon season in terms of duration, days per week and hrs per day and most significantly for “end of the line fisheries” (this term refers to Cheekpoint’s location.  Salmon first hit the coast at Donegal and swim round the west coast) such as Cheekpoint led to the legalisation of monofilament nets. (Indecon report.  P. 22)

Other recommendations not enacted in 1997 were in the planning stages and in the next few years would be realised.  The first was the creation of the National Salmon Commission in 1999.  Using a corporatist approach it was charged with the task of determining the future conservation of the salmon resource.  In 2001 it implemented the next stage of conservation measures, including the introduction of carcass tagging (a tag for each salmon caught, without a tag you could not fish) and logbook scheme (each fish had to be recorded given the date, time, size and who it was sold to) and the setting of a Total Allowable catch (TAC) of 219,619 salmon imposed for commercial fisheries in 2002.  (Report of the Independent Salmon Group.  P.85)

In the subsequent years the Total Allowable Catch deteriorated for the commercial sector and resulted in falling quotas for drift-netting year on year.  Fishermen in Cheekpoint were severely penalised under the system.  Tags were distributes based on the previous year’s catch.  Because of the villages location this resulted in fewer tags year on year. 

In 2002 alone there were several reports, two from the ESRI and three on behalf of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) including Mawle et al, Isaksson et al and Ruseski.  All these reports highlighted the economic value of the salmon as a national resource and highlighted the value add from tourism.

2003 saw the launch of the Indecon report on behalf of the Central Fisheries Board.  Labelled an economic/ Socio-economic study of wild salmon essentially undertook a data analysis of the money being raised from salmon and highlighted the struggle to earn a living for the commercial sector estimating;  
“the average (mean) income per week from salmon sales during the 2002 season was equal to €536, though the median was much lower at €195, indicating that incomes generated were relatively high among a small proportion of fishermen but that the vast majority of fishermen earned very low levels of income from salmon fishing. The income generated by fishermen is also concentrated over a limited period during the calendar year” (Indecon report,  p. vi)
The Angling lobby was also campaigning against drift-netting particularly in the media.  For example an Irish Independent story under the headline “Save our salmon, urges TK Whitaker”.  The article attacked government inaction on a salmon drift net ban.  Whitaker is described as “...one of the primary architects of the modern Irish state” It goes on to highlight the need for a ban to maintain the economic value of salmon for the State.  Tourism chiefs highlighted the value, claiming that their research had shown that a foreign angler caught fish was worth €432, a fisherman’s €22.  (Sunday Independent July 24, 2005)

2005 saw another development when the Joint Committee for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources set up the Sub-Committee on Salmon Drift-Netting.  The committee reported in October 2006.  The report had one crucial recommendation that government policy should move to what was termed as a single stock management (essentially an end to sea fishing).  Because this transition would take time the committee proposed a voluntary compensatory and/or set-aside scheme to achieve this transition. The committee acknowledged the role fishing played in rural communities and stressed that their recommendations were aimed at recognising not just the pressure salmon were under but also these communities also.  (Report of the Independent Salmon Group p. 73)

The 2006 Salmon season saw the erection, countrywide, of posters by anglers announcing that it was the last year of salmon drift netting.   Locally in Cheekpoint fishermen believed lobbying, directly and through the media by NASCO of the Irish government and Europe was paying dividends.  Ireland was being reminded of its commitments and court actions were being threatened by the E.U.   For some context see Peace (1996 pp 100-101)

Previously in March 2006 the government had established the Independent Salmon Group.  This three man team were appointed with the specific remit to advise the Government on managing the salmon resource.  Most believed that it would decide on similar lines to the sub-committee.  However, the group recommended a ban on salmon drift netting with the subsequent introduction of what was termed a “Salmon Hardship Scheme” to pay off fishermen who wanted to avail of a government package. 

Controversially it rewarded fishermen based on catches recorded in log book returns of the previous five years, there-by directly reducing the compensation package to fishermen in the rivers.  These men, many who had devoted their lives to the fishery found that they were entitled to a pittance.  Of the 156 licences in Waterford , 46 refused the offer.  The hope amongst many at the time of writing is that some form of return to the fishery may be possible.  However, for those who were and are fishermen how do they see the changes, what do they consider as the future for their community. 
Findings of the primary research
The findings of elements 1 and 2 have been included in the Cheekpoint Fishery and Government regulation.   Due to space, questions 4 & 5 have been set aside and these findings will concentrate on question 3, and specifically the social impacts on the community.

From the outset it is worth distinguishing that participants felt that many in the community would think there had been no impact from the recent salmon closure.  It is mostly felt by those directly involved in fishing.  They agree that as fishermen they are much less affected now than they would have been twenty or thirty years ago.  On the occasions where I challenged the men around improvements nationally via the Celtic tiger I was roundly challenged myself with rebuttals such as poor health, stress, commuting, shift work, uncertainty of work, no community spirit, rise in alcohol and drugs and so much more. 

The community has been impacted by the loss of commercial activity and the coming and going of boats and crews.  Money was earned and predominantly spent in the community in the past.  There was vibrancy about.  As one man said “a trip to the post office could have taken from a half hour to a half day in the past.  You’d be stopped chatting to people, now it takes five minutes”. 

This lack of people is blamed on factory shift work and people being employed in Waterford.  As one man pointed out they are either working or in bed.  Shift work patterns really impact on people and the area.  Although fishermen often worked through the night, it wasn’t like the factory shifts.  “You were working for yourself and could stop when you wanted.  In factories there is no such freedom.  It gets you into a rut” 

Participants believe that the lack of people about has a negative effect on the community.  It impacts on how people feel about their security.   Previously, if you were sick or incapacitated there were people to call.  They might drop you in a dinner or a feed of fish.  Messages would be run, There was someone to talk to.  Fishermen in the past were around because the village was their place of work, landing fish, mending nets, repairing boats. 

Other concerns are that young men don’t have the same opportunities to come of age in the ways they did in the past.  Although many have jobs through local restaurants which are well paid, clean, safe and “wouldn’t tax you”, it is considered a far cry from the training, challenge and satisfaction young men had in the past through fishing. 

Fishing was a method of schooling in itself.  Young men were taught valuable lessons.  For example they needed to learn the capabilities of boat and themselves.  For example catching a river marker bouy and how to extract yourself, nets and boat. This took common sense skills required, these have to be passed on – boat handling, fishing skills and psychologically – its not the end of the world to make a mistake.  Other skills around salmon fishing were more unique and as it was explained would never be found in a book, including the role played by wind, tide, moon, and season.  These will all be lost in the future it was felt as there will be no means of passing them on.

Perhaps the greatest loss is the contact with other fishermen on a daily or hourly basis.  As a fisherman you were in contact on the quayside, as boats passed each other, or waited for particular drifts.  A key factor of this was the swapping of pieces of information vital for knowing how and where the fish were “running”.  Men also cooperated around the seasonal activities such as hauling out boats for overwintering or repair and the making and repairing of nets. These were not so much tasks as occasions.  There loss, ultimately, engenders isolation as men are more inclined to stay inside if they know there will be no one to see or talk to.

All in all, participants felt that previously the river had a deeper significance for the community.  It derived an income, was a source of food, pleasure, challenge.  It was a place for regatta’s where communities competed against each other and was a mode of transport to and from the city, but also to dances and social occasions in other communities around the estuary.  The village, it is felt has embraced the car and the city and turned its back almost completely on the river.  Though the salmon closure came on the heels of these wider changes, it cements them to a large extent.  Without the Salmon fishery, there is little to hold the fishery in place.

Analysis of the Findings
Traditional fishermen in Cheekpoint have been sidelined by a modernising state, intent on developing the fishing industry into a major economic food producer.  Through “productionism” the state has encouraged bigger boats, larger, centralised harbours and single stock fisheries.  Through such concepts as scientisation, commoditisation and specialisation, the state has worked to transform the fishery sector.  For villages such as Cheekpoint this has led to less fish, greater competition for stocks and ultimately an unravelling of the traditional ways of life for fishing families.

Worse, the modernising concepts are proving to be an antithesis to the traditional method of fishing in the community.  Fishing, which for generations used a multitude of methods, concentrated on several species and was supported, where necessary by other household income, has been ostracised by the dominant view of fishing.

Salmi (2005) refers to this rural mobility as “pluriactivity” and highlights that the importance of appreciating small scale fisheries “...lies in the importance of these activities at a family level and as part of local communities” (p22) Such an activity “...acts to protect the local community from crisis in the market and in the natural resource availability.” (P 24)

The State plays a significant role in alienating traditional methods of fishing and earning a living.  It does this through the bureaucratisation of the system of governance and the availability of experts to tell locals what to do.  By moving from “Customary Action” to “Rational Action” fishermen have had their confidence in their knowledge undermined.  They have been encouraged to invest in bigger boats and move to Dunmore East.   Traditional craft which were built and repaired locally have been undermined by fibreglass boats built elsewhere.  Fishermen are encouraged to replace rather than repair.  The onus is on bigger boats, greater quantity of gear and specialising in catch. Fishermen who resist the dominant view are labelled hobby fishermen, part timers or not “go-ahead”.

Subramanian, giving an Indian insight, but reflecting my personal view on the mistreatment of the traditional Irish sector, relates how artisanal fishermen were manoeuvred aside by mechanised trawler-men.  More politically aware, they “...crafted a politics of modernity that underscores their difference from the artisanal sector and their identification with a national middle class defined by its commitment to development” (p140)  Defining themselves very much as go ahead, by stressing their income, property, commitment to the national interest, they highlighted their interests as being the states interest. (pp140 – 141)

Fishermen in Cheekpoint have been completely ignored in the development of fishery policy that has sought off shore development and commercialisation.  Yet the damage to Cheekpoint, culturally, socially and economically has not raised a blip on the governments radar.  This lack of voice or representation, what Peace (2001) refers to as a “Politics of Powerlessness” underlines the damage caused by corporatist approaches to decision making and begs the question in who’s interests are decisions being taken.  As Gorz explains it through his theories of “Detrimental Appropriation” and “Exclusive Access” perhaps what we have seen is the simple shift in access to a national resource from traditional fisherman to the tourism industry legitimised by the bureaucracy of the state.

Perhaps the greatest damage has been the impact on individual fishermen and their self concept.  Salmon is not just the most economically important fish in the community, it is valued for the skill it takes to catch.  As Peace 1996 recognises “Because of the singular qualities of the salmon – that he is male, that he is powerful, that he is clever and a major challenge to fishing expertise – he commands a social and political value which no other fish can match.  Through catching him, men ensnare elements of their own identities” (pp 98 -9)

The factors leading to the decline in Salmon stocks need to be addressed.  However, communities such as Cheekpoint will pay dearly over and above other communities with the abilities to adjust to other fishing methods.  There is only the Eel fishery which could assist in Cheekpoint but that has its own difficulties and would collapse if similar numbers turned to it.  That however is not the issue.  Put simply places like Cheekpoint need salmon fishing for more than just the income.  It is essential as a way of life, keeps traditions alive and allows for skills, culture and relationships to be fostered and sustained within a small community.  The answers are not contained in an income from a city job.  The struggle is to be allowed to work, and practice your way of life in your own community. 

Fishermen have been ostracised from their traditional outlook on the fishery by decades of modernising theory from politicians, business, media, bigger fishing interests and institutions such as the EU.  They have not lost sight of the importance and centrality of the salmon fishery, but they have been silenced and pushed aside.  Haase (2007) refers to “opportunity deprivation”.  However, as this research has shown, it is not opportunities that the men lack, rather an opportunity to do what it is they feel born to do.  Thus their problem is not opportunity deprivation, rather identity deprivation.

Unless and until these unique men decided to work together to advocate for their distinct way of life, the modern state will ignore them.  They will remain as invisible as the men described earlier by Noel Bradley in Donegal.  Educational programmes such as those organised by Horton are exceptions in the Irish context to visionaries such as Bradley.  Communities such as Cheekpoint need these kind of programmes.  They need the injection of resources and expertise, not to educate, but as Horton envisioned to “...supplement what they need to know to complete the analysis” (Jarvis p 253)

The research sought to explore the social impacts on Cheekpoint of government regulation in the commercial Salmon fishing sector.  Using a critical ethnography approach, it seeks the views of local fishermen on the changes, particularly on the community.  Through it emerges a view of the modernising state trampling traditional ways of being in the rush towards economic and political progress.  Worse, it mocks those values, traditions and knowledge as being backward and something to be ashamed of.  Villages such as my own are encouraged via policy, media, political decisions and much more to turn their back on traditional ways of being and to embrace a modern lifestyle.  

Yet this modern lifestyle has been harshly critiqued by the participants of this research.  Participants resent the hustle and bustle of present day living.  Their insights thoughtfully considered, long discussed, carefully enunciated show deep appreciation for a way of life almost lost and vivid reasons for why it should be sustained.  Key considerations include: identity, values, knowledge, practices and ways of being and knowing.

The fishermen are keenly aware of how they have been treated, and although powerlessness is a key feature of their response, this should not be confused with passiveness.  Intelligent and capable, they have been worn down by faceless decision makers, who however intelligent, know little of what these men do of fish, boats or the River Suir.  With careful and considered inputs such men and such villages may yet again be able to sustain themselves.

Many questions remain for me.  I am keenly aware of the gaps in my understanding around the decision making in the fishery sector.  I know little of the representative groups for fishermen, despite being a fisherman for 15 years.  I would like to better understand the role of the fish farming industry and the angler lobby (both national and international).  I would also like to explore the current sustainability movement to examine how it might benefit communities such as Cheekpoint, given that traditional fishers were working on some of the principles of sustainability long before the phrase was in common usage. A hope would be to see a similar analysis of the community from a woman’s perspective.

Perhaps the most important area for consideration for myself now is to seek ways to work positively to effect an outcome to sustain Cheekpoint as a Fishing community.  To work collectively and critically with fishermen to challenge and develop a fishing future that is sustainable.

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