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CSEC Seminar - Christopher Gad on fishery inspection

Date: 4 December 2007 Time: 1.00-2.00 pm

Patrolling the Sea - An Ethnography of Fishery Inspection

Christopher Gad, University of Aarhus, Denmark.

Tuesday 4 December, 1.00-2.00

Institute for Advanced Studies, Meeting Room 3

In this paper I want address various complexities in fishery inspection. During the fall 2006 and spring 2007 I did fieldwork onboard the Danish fishery inspection ship Vestkysten (The West Coast). Vestkysten is a 50m ship which was built in 1987. Although it also serves as a rescue vessel almost all its work today concerns the inspection of fishing vessels.

The ships purpose is, obviously, to protect fish stocks and the "sustainable exploitation" thereof, and prevent illegal fishing. Weather permitting, fishery inspectors will board fishing vessels at sea and check the onboard situation against statutory demands such as net sizes and catch. For the purpose of fishery management, the sea is divided into zones with different licensing rules. The rights to catch different fish by different means are distributed individually to fishing vessels. Yet, the movement of fishing vessels is not restricted - only fishing itself is. As the sea is obviously a very large place, maintaining borders here is not a simple accomplishment.

For instance, Vestkysten cannot "sneak up" on whoever it suspects; it moves too slow and is visible both "in reality" and also "virtually" due to different "counter-surveillance techniques" deployed by fishermen. The slowness, for instance, gives fishermen plenty of time to call one another and appropriately "update" their log books. Realising this, many inspectors refer to one of the main effects of their work as preventive. The difficulties in accomplishing a specific task (identifying and catching suspects) means that goals are translated - here into obtaining a general effect.

However, the value of this effect (the general goal of fishery management as such) is also disputable as the condition of fish stocks and decisions about quotas are based on negotiations and estimates rather than "scientific fact". One problem with the "data" is that most fish travel a lot. Only a few species do not move. Knowledge about the size of most fish stocks in specific areas is therefore uncertain. Furthermore, "data" is based on catching records submitted by fishing vessels, meaning that "scientific fact" is gathered by "potential suspects."

The work of fishery inspection involves different IT systems. Very important is a satellite based surveillance system which allows one to follow the whereabouts of fishing vessels and collect data on their past catch records and behaviour. However the fishery inspectors do not play the panoptic role of Big Brother. Rather, the surveillance gaze is an accomplishment that requires work to establish and it is limited. The fishermen seem to know as much about the movement of Vestkysten as the inspectors know about the movements of the fishing boats. Furthermore, due to various bureaucratic, evaluative initiatives from the state inspectors also find that they are getting more and more surveilled. Fishery inspectors are thus situated "in between" the state and the fishermen in a specific way: preventing illegal fishing by patrolling the sea is both a concern with managing borders and confirm to protocol, but also about how to acts within the constraints and possibilities of "control" and "freedom". Inspectors have to handle both their own freedom and control, and those of "others." This, in turn, makes such concepts disputable. Freedom at sea is then not to be taken for granted.

No wonder then that the effects, purpose and meaning of fishery inspection is contested, and that a strong sense of uncertainty is manifest when fishery inspectors debate such issues themselves.

In the talk I want to make some of these concerns explicit.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Centre for the Study of Environmental Change, Sociology

Keywords: Environment, Science studies


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
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