“Charting a course towards co-management for UK fishing” – three-day York event brings together fishermen, scientists and fisheries managers.

Continuing a run of innovative, three-day events for those working in and alongside the fishing industry, the Fisheries Resource Education Programme (F-REP) – led by the charity Fishing into the Future – has been championed as a vital foundation for effective fisheries co-management in the UK. Highlighting just how impactful these events are to support different fisheries actors in working together, fisherman Alan Steer commented: “These events are game-changing for everyone involved. The learning and understanding gained over a few days sets you up to be informed and confident to hold discussions with scientists and managers, and the broad range of people in the room – from academics, funders and those at the top of fisheries management. As a fisherman, it’s taken me years to meet people like this and to have meaningful two-way conversations with them. Fishing into the Future pulls us all together and gets us fully immersed and engaged for three days of learning and connecting – which we have come away so much more energised.”

The latest instalment of the F-REP programme took place at the end of February at Burn Hall in Yorkshire. And whilst the event was conveniently located for fishermen working along the North-east coast shellfisheries, it drew participants from Wales, Scotland and the South coast of England, too. Over 60 individuals gathered, with active fishermen, marine and fisheries scientists, fisheries managers, and trade industry bodies in the room. Focused on fostering the conditions for truly sustainable and prosperous UK fisheries – building from the policy foundations set out in the UK Fisheries Act – the F-REP programme offers a chance for knowledge exchange, interactive workshops, fisheries management ‘games’ and informal sessions like an ‘Industry-Science Mixer’ – all designed to bring together these groups in a cohesive way; energising the industry for meaningful co-management. 

A previous F-REP event in Southampton (November 2023) saw one attendee say it had ‘restored his faith in the future of fishing,’ joining a chorus of other positive comments from attendees, saying how they felt reinvigorated and listened to by the Government. 

“It’s certainly not an ‘all work, no play’ set-up” explains Emma Plotnek, the Executive Director of FITF. “The sessions during the day – covering topics like science and data collection, establishing fishing associations, and the socio-economic aspects of fisheries management – are designed to encourage teamwork and collaborative thinking. And there are opportunities to put these skills into practice as we shift towards a co-management approach in UK fisheries”.

Emma emphasises an all-important and less tangible component of the F-REP programme’s success: “It’s also about getting to know each other on a personal level. While working in the same industry, and broadly sharing the same hopes and aspirations for the future of fishing, there’s not a lot of direct interaction between these individuals on a day-to-day basis. This is a unique feature of what we do. We provide a neutral space for us all to convene without the pressure of making a decision or delving into the weeds of one specific and contentious issue.”

Whilst there are a range of challenges facing the fishing industry, FITF emphasises that the F-REP programme is designed to support fishermen to face these challenges head-on and organise with one another to share the load and speak with a united voice – something that will be important when participating in the delivery and development of ‘Fisheries Management Plans’ (FMPs). 

“We understand that Fisheries Management Plans could pave the way for a more of a co-management styled approach, where fishermen have the opportunity to actively participate in management decision-making,” Emma explains. “This presents an opportunity to draw on the wealth of experience different fishermen have, including the ones that often don’t get a seat at the table due to a variety of barriers to being there. This is where F-REP comes in. By putting on specially tailored sessions exploring FMPs in detail, we’re aiming to create the optimal conditions for everybody to collectively work towards sustainable and prosperous fisheries – particularly building that confidence to engage with the process and stick with it, long-term.” 

Reflecting on the whole experience at the end of the event, one fisherman in attendance said: “I had a very, very jaded view of policymakers and scientists built up over the years, but coming here and socialising and humanising everyone has been a wonderful learning experience and I thank you all.”

Another added, “You brought all these ‘out of reach’ people into the room and gave us the confidence to ask questions”.



Further insights into F-REP sessions from FITF’s Emma Plotnek

The F-REP York agenda was diverse, with a balance of learning, listening, talking and participation in activities and tasks.

 “We want to avoid sitting around and looking at presentations and slides with just one person talking – we have to consider that a lot of the people in the room are used to being up early, physically working their bodies, and learning through doing – so a classroom environment is not our style”

On Day One, the learning around science and data collection was buffered with an activity led by Steve Mackinson (Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association) and Ewen Bell (CEFAS) who set groups the task of designing a data collection survey for a crab fishery, testing different approaches with a strict budget constraint. This challenged attendees to figure out the most efficient and effective approach to data collection. “Using cups full of beans to represent sampling boats at sea, it got people thinking from a different perspective, and illustrated the principles and potential flaws of data collection systems, which were quickly grasped by everyone in the room – even those with a self-proclaimed phobia of maths and numbers.” 

Day Two included a session that had groups of fishermen, scientists and policymakers sit down together in small groups to define their “core values” – a set of beliefs held that shape the way they would want to proceed with fisheries management, sharing individual values to build understanding, and reaching consensus on collective values that cut across everyone involved and provide a springboard for working together. The notes from discussions taken during this session were captured and will be put together by FITF to feed back to everyone involved, and then echo back to the Government as guidance for future ways of working. “The session was hard at first, as we often don’t discuss our deeply-held beliefs that are tied to emotions and cultures. But informally, this was likened to relationship therapy for everyone involved, giving everyone a space to talk about the situations that have been hard in the past and what we would like to see done differently. The intention is that this allows everyone to navigate complex situations while keeping their identities and cultures at the forefront.” 

A highlight of Day Three were insights from retail, as FITF was joined by Marks & Spencer’s Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager, Linda Wood, delivering a talk on seafood markets, sourcing and working with the industry to meet their criteria for responsible sourcing. This included initiatives based on developing technology and innovating alongside industry. “Seeing the human face behind a big name like Marks & Spencer, who wanted to come and talk to us and get involved in the event was a real privilege. Understanding their sourcing policies, their intentions to connect British suppliers into their range, and why that is important but sometimes impossible was really revealing, it was rounded up nicely as we all admitted we felt really privileged to be able to have this interaction and learn from each other.”  

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