Aquaculture, fishermen and the invention of innovation

by Rodrigo Martínez-Novo, Emmánuel Lizcano, Paloma Herrera-Racionero, Lluís Miret-Pastor

Innovation is a key factor in any current economical, social or environmental policy. Also in fisheries policy where this concept shares the spotlight with co-management. In fact, innovation is often present in the narrative of scientists, politicians and aquaculturists, but what about fishermen?

Fishermen don’t use this narrative of innovation. The concept of innovation is a construct that has its roots in that non-place of theory, therefore, it has not been taken up in the common language of local fishing. They recognize the term, however. It tends to be interpreted as a standardized transformation or as large scale changes imposed externally. In their speech they tend to use isolated concepts such as ‘novelty’, ‘change’, ‘improvements’ or ‘inventions’.

As we noted in our paper, this could be the result of the different – if not opposite – latent assumptions that underlie stakeholders' forms of knowledge. Those who share the innovation discourse implicitly provide certain abstract entities (market, techno-science and progress) with an autonomy and capacity for agency that is not recognized by fishermen. Fishermen, in turn, transfer that agency and autonomy to particular objects which are perceived as unique and genuine subjects: the sea, fish, local markets (fish markets), their specific experience, inventiveness and tradition.

We also observed how each group of actors erodes assumptions the other group takes for granted. The power of the market, techno-science, in the narrative of the innovators, neutralize, even discredit, the fishermen’s experience, creativity and fishing traditions. On the other hand, the narrative of the fishermen has the market, progress and techno-science painted as coercive.

All this certainly has important implications for fisheries policy. Attempts by European Fishery Policy to promote innovation jointly in aquaculture and local fishing through participation could lead to undesirable, if not contradictory, effects. In this sense, not anticipating discordances and inconsistencies between the collective imaginations of the groups that develop each activity, contributes to increasing conflict and to the disappearance of the most vulnerable local players. Of course, many of the assumptions and conclusions of this work, focused on traditional fishing and its supposed coexistence with aquaculture, could be extended to other fields where the discourse of innovation ends up being a weapon against local knowledge and communities.

Download the original article: Innovation or ‘Inventions’? The conflict between latent assumptions in marine aquaculture and local fishery