This study explored the extent to which values are shared (or not shared) by fishers across three key sectors (i.e., Indigenous, commercial and recreational). The study was run online using Q-Method Software (https://qmethodsoftware.com), a semi-quantitative technique used to explore human perspectives in a systematic and repeatable manner.
Fishers across the three sectors were required to sort and rank the pre-listed value statements. Participants were recruited through emailed invitations, social media posts and newsletters from key fishing sector representative bodies as well as snow-ball sampling. In response to a very low response rate from the Indigenous sector, additional participants (n = 6) were recruited by a member of the project team at a conference held in Far North Queensland. A total of 116 fishers completed the Q study. The collected data was analysed using inverted factor analysis to allow for the identification of distinct sub-groups of people whose responses are highly correlated. Through examining the Q-methodology outputs, five distinct sub-groups emerged: Sub-group A – “social-value fishers” (n = 39); Sub-group B – “economic-value fishers” (n = 19); Sub-group C – “environmental-value fishers” (n = 24); Sub-group D – “traditional-value” fishers (n = 10); and Sub-group E – “fish-focused” fishers (n = 15). Each subgroup comprises fishers who ranked the value statements similarly in terms of those statements they felt were very important to them and those that were less important to them. As such, the analysis provided information about complementary and contrasting values among different groups of fishers.
This study indicated that values (i) do not “neatly” align to the different industry sectors; and (ii) do not differ based on the different industry sectors. However, the Q-methodology analysis indicated that there were five distinct groups based on how values were ranked.
Across the five distinct groups the top four complementary values were: (1) fishing is environmentally sustainable, (2) accountability for industry participants who break the rules, (3) having access to fish and fishing, and (4) access to the ocean/sea. Environmental sustainability was the highest ranked value even among the sub-group that was dominated by economic type values (sub-group B), suggesting that even for productivity-based research and development (R&D), the focus should be on R&D that drives productivity and/or profitability improvements without reducing/ compromising environmental sustainability. Environmental sustainability is also key driver of production and there seem to be general appreciation of its importance across the fishing sectors.
The three lowest ranked values across the five distinct groups were cultural values: (1) fishing’s support of cultural practices and requirements, (2) fishing provides a connection to ancestors/previous generations, and (3) opportunity to barter and trade goods. Some of the social values not considered to be important by any of the sub-groups included catching lots of fish or large fish, and spending time fishing alone.
In terms of contrasting values across the five sub-groups, economic type values were generally not highly ranked except by one group which was dominated by commercial fishers (sub-group B). Statements like fishing’s economic returns and employment/income from fishing, industry innovation and advancement, fishing’s contribution to the local economy were not considered to be important by the remaining groups.
The use of Q-methodology to identify values for the different sectors revealed that online survey may not also be practical and effective. For example, there was very limited responses to the online survey by Indigenous sector participants and further effort was required to capture their values in a face-to-face approach. It is recommended that future research should seek to include face-to-face data collection methods to improve efficiency in capturing views of diverse groups.
Values play a key role in decision-making and in creating public policy. One of the primary implications of the current study is that it would likely be ineffective and inefficient to make decisions or set policies based on sectoral classifications in the fishing industry such as Indigenous, commercial and/or recreational. The project findings strongly demonstrate that the values held by fishers cannot be neatly delineated into standard industry sector classifications. However, the project findings also show that there are a number of values shared by all fishers across sectors that may provide ‘common ground’ and ‘common language’ that in turn would provide a basis for better engagement and communication both between the sectors and between researchers, fisheries managers, Government and Australian fishers.
Dissemination of the findings that all sectors have several complementary values will help improve engagement and communication between the sectors and enhance effective and efficient implementation of future fisheries policies. Notably, the dissemination of the findings of this study is a step towards building a shared understanding of complementary values among different sectors and contrasting values within individual sectors. The shared knowledge will help improve trust among the sectors and between regulators and resource users. The improvements in trust among the various stakeholders will further enhance effective decision-making processes, particularly co-management and resource access.