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November 2001

Institutionalizing Social Science Data Collection A Pilot Project                                                  

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Project Overview

The Sustainable Fisheries Act requires that socio-economic impacts of fisheries regulations must be considered. Systematic collection and use of socio-economic data should be an integral part of the management design process, but it is not. Fisheries managers are often called upon to make decisions that have tremendous impacts on communities without having adequate information to design conservation measures that can achieve their goals without inflicting unnecessarily harsh social and economic impacts.

The MFP community Panels Project has been created to demonstrate effective use of community-based panels to collect and analyze social science information and to make this information available to improve fisheries management. The project has instituted six community-based panels of fishing stakeholders as detailed below. The goal is to help each panel collect and organize relevant social science data so that the communities can regularly comment on and describe potential real-time impacts from proposed regulations. The data may also be used to assist communities in assembling important facts for economic and development planning.

rincipal Investigators:

David Bergeron
Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership
2 Blackburn Center
Gloucester, MA 01930
[email protected]

Madeleine Hall-Arber, PhD
Center for Marine Social Sciences
MIT Sea Grant College Program
3 Cambridge Center, NE20-368
Cambridge, MA 02142
[email protected] 

Bonnie J. McCay, PhD
Rutgers Board of Governors Distinguished
Service Professor  
Chair, Department of Human Ecology
Cook College, Rutgers the State University
55 Dudley Road
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901
[email protected]

Project Participants Advisory panel: About 18 people representing the three target communities and interested others attended the introductory meeting Beals Island/Jonesport: Jennifer Brewer, Coordinator; Herman Backman, Jr., Dwight Carver, John Church, Colleen Haskell, Dana Rice, Mike Kirby, and later, Amr Ismail, Robin Alden, Ted Hoskins. This group includes fishermen, a high school principal, and community activists.

Gloucester: Sarah Robinson, Coordinator; Vito Giacalone, David Goethel, Bill Linn, Rosalie Parisi, Steve Parkes, Marc Sandler, Angela Sanfilippo, Joe Scola, Christine Sherman, Russell Sherman. These individuals comprise a group of inshore fishermen, a settlement agent, an attorney, seafood dealers, and fisheries group representatives. Some panel meetings have been attended by Lori Steele, staff member of the New England Fishery Management Council.

Scituate: Bob Marcella, Bob MacKinnon, Chuck Haddad, Chris Mullaney, and later, Steve Welch. These include a lobsterman, two gillnetters, a restaurant owner, and a grocery store owner. Objectives Our primary objective is to develop a community-based process for gathering and assessing social science data relevant to the fishing industry.  

We wanted to

  • ground-truth an academic product intended as a baseline study
  • identify what communities consider important
  • locate new data sources
  • offer communities the opportunity to define themselves and articulate their values

Community-based panels are reviewing, adding to, and creating socio-economic profiles for their communities. This project has enabled us to experiment with several approaches to developing a community-based process for social science data collection. Evaluation of the different approaches has already enabled us to adapt our strategies for the next phase of this project and for a companion project that is extending our work to an additional three communities.

Our advisory group brainstormed categories for participants in the panels that included a wide variety of community and industry members. The group then suggested individuals for each of the panels that represented the identified categories.   Originally, we intended to hire someone from each of the fishing communities to serve as coordinator. However, we quickly learned that we were likely to be more successful if we actually hired someone from outside the community, but who had specific characteristics. These characteristics will be described in the section below entitled “Lessons learned.” We were fortunate to find two excellent coordinators for our Beals Island and Gloucester Panels. Interestingly, the Scituate Panel requested that we not hire a coordinator as they felt that they could organize themselves, meet sufficiently often and carry out the research themselves.   In order to recruit individuals to the panels, we started with the lists suggested by the advisory group and held additional discussions with other well-known individuals in each community. The coordinators took the lead on identifying contacts in the community and region, networking, and recruiting the core panel members. They also successfully established group rapport and trust, a precedent for consensus.   The PIs took the lead on developing protocols to guide the data collection and panel discussions. Each panel then adapted the protocols to better suit their communities’ concerns, issues, and values. In addition, each panel suggested additional panel members to the coordinators that they and the coordinators felt would help them to meet their objectives and augment data collection capabilities.

Originally, we had planned for each panel to meet a total of six times in two years. We had anticipated day-long meetings. We learned early, however, that panel members preferred to meet in the evening for shorter meetings held more frequently. Beals Island/Jonesport met 5 times in 5 months; Gloucester met 4 times in three months specifically for the panels project; and Scituate met 3 times in four months. Selected milestones Beals Island/Jonesport:

  • Identified panel members’ common values and general goals with regard to project objectives. This group wants to retain the right to fish for themselves and their descen dan ts. It is perceived as a unique and valuable livelihood, as well as the community’s economic base. In practice, this means opposing regulatory closure of customary commons, such as license moratoria/entry limits and ITQs that restrict industry flexibility by preventing entry and exit to fisheries. Maintaining infrastructure is also important. At present, the lobster fishery is the key concern, being the primary fishery, but greater diversity of resource access is desired as well. The group decided to take an historical approach to show the extent to which flexibility and resource access have already diminished. The idea is that fighting individual regulatory events on the basis of immediate social and economic impacts is a perpetual and losing battle. Establishing the extent of impacts over time might be more likely to effect a paradigm shift in regulatory policy.
  • Agreed upon data collection tasks that might further these goals
  • Identified human resources available to collect data, both within and outside the community. Assigned initial data collection tasks to panel members, subsequent tasks to panel coordinator, and explored possibility of assigning further tasks to a panel member recruited for his research experience.
  • Panel members collected initial data from lobster, crab and groundfisheries
  • Asked panel to respond to immediate regulatory changes in groundfishery by channeling panel viewpoints directly to state regulatory agency and indirectly to federal and regional decision makers via MFP
  • Explored possibility of making formal presentation to state regulatory agency and lawmakers


  • Our first two meetings focused on the project as a whole, its aims, sources of data, and appropriate tasks for panel members.
  • Among other things, we examined a ‘project matrix’ designed by the principal investigators (it identifies information to collect about the fisheries and the community over a period of 15-20 years) and discussed the desirability and feasibility of collecting the information to fill in the matrix.
  • Began a review of the data contained in the 2001 MARFIN report’s profile of Gloucester and the North Shore.

Shortly after our second meeting, a judicial decision imposing new and severe restrictions on the groundfish fishery in New England was issued, and our next two meetings focused on the likely social and economic effects of these new restrictions.

  • We designed and distributed two data collection forms, a ‘boat economics’ form, and a ‘days-at-sea’ form. The former is aimed at identifying the fixed and non-fixed costs of different size vessels, and the latter at the actual numbers of days-at-sea used by fishermen in the groundfishery (as a way of estimating their new allocations under the new restrictions).
  • Panel members filled out forms, and also distributed them to (and collected them back from) other members of the community. Our panel member who is a settlement agent was invaluable in collecting the boat economics information. 
  • We are currently in the process of analyzing the data collected.


Panel members have found it more difficult than anticipated to organize themselves and conduct research without formal direction. Nevertheless, the three meetings were productive since the panel members are very knowledgeable about the fishing in their area and the changes that have occurred over time. 

  • We have recently hired a coordinator and will be moving forward later this month.
  • Several of the members have used the protocols to survey harvesters.

Project principals (PIs and coordinators, including the new coordinators for the additional communities) met to discuss project’s progress, goals, objectives, lessons learned, next steps. We invited an economist and the project principals on the Atlas project to join us in order to evaluate how best to coordinate our work for mutual benefit.  

Special meetings  

Four industry-wide meetings were held in June by the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership in Gloucester, New Bedford, Boston, and Chatham. While not “panel meetings” per se, these were held under the aegis of the community panel project. The aim of these meetings was to identify industry views on immediate social and economic needs of the communities in the wake of the tight new restrictions on the groundfishery. This was of great interest in Gloucester, where the great majority of fishing vessels participate in (and rely upon) the groundfishery. Panel members provided valuable information at the meeting and helped to frame key questions posed at the meeting.
The PI s distributed a survey instrument they had designed to collect information about industry members (both harvesters and shore-side businesses) and their views on immediate social and economic needs. One panel member, employing personal persistence and considerable networks in the community, worked hard to ensure that people would fill in the surveys. Due to her pivotal efforts, we collected 42 completed surveys from industry members in Gloucester and the North Shore. We are also in the process of analyzing the data collected in these surveys.

Lessons learned  

Coordinators qualities are critical to success: Top Coordinators have to be familiar with social science methodology and familiar with the fishing industry. We also sought coordinators known and liked in the communities. Importantly, the coordinators must be able to explain the goals and objectives of the project without imposing a personal agenda. They must be able and willing to summarize what is known and facilitate their panel’s discussions. They must be flexible and willing to make an extraordinary number of phone calls to organize meetings and recruit participation. They must be able to help panel members set tasks and deadlines for accomplishment and they must be able to devote time to research and writing in order to further the work of the panels and the project.  The community panels have already proven to be valuable. They made feasible the convening at short notice of the special industry-wide meetings to assess immediate economic needs.

Panels composition:

  • Panels should comprise 8-12 core members and be open to additional members on a permanent or task basis
  • Panel should comprise roughly half industry representatives and half people with broader non-fishing-related experience
  • Panels should include a dealer, harvesters representing at least the range of vessel sizes, if not the range of gear types and species, someone with experience in local government, someone with a personal or professional interest in young people who want to fish for a living.
  • Good panel members are often people who are already over-committed to civic activities. Respecting their scheduling and pacing needs is important.
  • In some communities (e.g., Beals Island/Jonesport area), adding core panel members on a permanent basis can be difficult after the second meeting or so, once group rapport and goals are being formed. This makes it important to get a good mix of skills and experience from the start.
  • However, in larger communities (e.g., Gloucester), it is probably best not to think of the panel as a fixed object, but rather as a collection of individuals with various, interconnected expertise.

We have found that for certain purposes, it is most effective to have sub-groups of the panel meet to develop data on a particular topic within their expertise. For other purposes (like the upcoming Amendment 13 brainstorming session), it is most effective to have the group meet as a whole and pool their expertise. · In any case, panel members should not be asked to invest large amounts of time in topics for which other panel members have greater expertise

Panel coordination

  • Depending on the number of hours the panel coordinator has available for data collection and administrative tasks, recruiting a core panel member with basic administrative, research or data entry skills as well as time to invest in panel support tasks can be very helpful
  • Distributing responsibility for panel coordination from the beginning helps to ensure that backup human resources are in place should the primary coordinator have to leave the project temporarily or permanently. This backup person could be a panel member, a PI, or a secondary coordinator.

Objectives, data and group dynamics

  • Clarity and realism in communicating project objectives is crucial. Panel members are being asked to invest in a process with uncertain outcomes. This should be understood. It should also be clear how differences between the goals of the panel or the goals of the scientists are paramount will be negotiated.
  • Although consensus may not always be possible, it is desirable for group cohesion and project momentum
  • Participants need to believe that their input will be taken seriously and have a positive, practical impact
  • It is helpful for panel coordinators to meet occasionally to share common problems and solutions
  • It is particularly helpful to have a PI at the first or second panel meeting to establish credibility with the panel, to answer panel questions, to establish an open line of communication, and to see the group dynamics first hand in order to better support the coordinator as the project progresses

 Social science

  • The project must be designed to collect social and economic information. To panel members it makes no sense to focus on social impacts without also, simultaneously, looking at economic impacts. The two are tied together and must be investigated together.
  • Panels need regular access to quality advice on methodology and realistic goals from a social scientist and someone with regulatory experience. Such expertise might be offered by the coordinator, the PIs (in attendance or in close communication with the coordinator), or by a panel member familiar with these issues.
  • It is critical that the PI s and the coordinators provide information about social science methodologies and instruments to panel members. Panel members do not want the task of reinventing social science; rather, they want to work with social scientists as active partners. In exchange for their participation, their views, and their hard work, they want information about effective social science methods. They want to be sure their work will be taken seriously and not dismissed as inadequate. At the same time, they raise good, hard methodological questions about existing social science methods, and their collaboration can be critical in the further design of effective methods. Next steps:


  • Amendment 13—We are in the process of scheduling an October panel meeting to ‘brainstorm’ on the likely impacts of Amendment 13, the new restrictions on the groundfishery planned for August 2003, on Gloucester. We aim to get together the panel members (expanded by a few new members to ensure that we have the widest possible participation) to talk about what the impacts are likely to be, what information is needed to estimate these impacts, and what holes there are in current Council analyses of impacts. This will be a critical analysis as Gloucester is likely to be very hard hit by Amendment 13. Its principal fishery today is an inshore groundfish fishery. One of the major alternatives for the regulations under consideration is a closure of the inshore grounds around Gloucester to groundfishing (along with 50% or greater cuts in already greatly diminished days-at-sea allocations). Following this ‘brainstorming’ meeting (or ‘focus’ group meeting), we will endeavor to collect what we can of the information deemed critical to a proper analysis of Amendment 13’s social and economic impacts. As noted, we are in the process of analyzing data already collected (through the boat economics forms, the days-at-sea forms, and the surveys), and we will use that data in our Amendment 13 analyses.
  • Beyond the Amendment 13 analysis, we intend to pursue the review of the MARFIN port profile (part of which will be accomplished by the Amendment 13 review), to continue work on filling in the ‘project matrix,’ and to determine and provide other end products (such as historical narratives from long-time industry participants).

 Beals Island/Jonesport

  • Continue input process for groundfish Amendment 13 by tapping additional panel members from a broader area with greater investment in groundfishing
  • Continue data collection · Collate data into graphical presentation of quantitative findings
  • Edit MARFIN and write narrative explication of quantitative findings, incorporating qualitative input from panel and other interviewees
  • Possibly write and mail community household and/or business survey
  • If panel wishes to do so, develop formal panel presentation for state or other decision-makers
  • Explore possibility of writing additional grants in collaboration with community members, according to priorities established by the group


  • Focus on Amendment 13, likely economic and social impacts not only to groundfish harvesters, but the potential effect on shoreside businesses and other fisheries


  • Panel coordinators will meet to draft a very brief step-by-step guide to recruiting and convening panels, addressing issues that are likely to arise, and possibly adding a list of resources. PIs will review the proposed guide, finalize the content and write any introductory sections to orient the material within their broader agenda for institutionalization.

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