June 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW5

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Training in Reversal: A Fishing Gear Workshop by Fishermen for Non-Fishermen

Increasingly, people without fishing gear backgrounds are involved in fisheries management. While they have strengths in their respective professions, an operational knowledge of fishing gears is lacking. Such gaps can be filled with collaborative learning workshops utilizing industry members as instructors. This reversal training strategy also builds mutual understanding between groups that are usually at odds. Commercial trawlers and gillnetters owned and operated by the industry were used as at-sea workshop platforms for two 3-day workshops. Participants included National Marine Fisheries Service employees, Congressional and Senatorial staffers, State fisheries scientists, Marine Docents, extension professionals, and cooperative research funding organizations.

Kenneth J. La Valley
Assistant Extension Professor of Zoology
Commercial Fisheries Specialist
NH Sea Grant College Program

Pingguo He
Research Associate Professor
Ocean Process Analysis Laboratory
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension
Durham, New Hampshire


Fisheries management in the US has become very complicated. Restrictions on fishing gears and operations have become key components in fisheries management plans. Increasingly, people without fishing gear backgrounds are involved in fisheries management processes and debates. This group of people includes fisheries managers and staff members who work for various committees, councils, and commissions; federal and state fisheries departments; funding agencies supporting cooperative research on fisheries; congressional staffers; and representatives of conservation organizations. While they have various strengths in their respective professions, a lack of knowledge on fishing gears and their operations is evident. There is a need for these groups of people to have better knowledge and understanding of commercial fishing gears and their operations, so that communication between the agencies and commercial fishermen can be improved (Glass, 2005; Hartley & Read, 2005).

On the other hand, many do not have opportunity to go to sea on fishing trips due to their work commitment or for insurance and liability reasons. Such gaps can be filled with training workshops tailored to this need. In addition, fishermen have great knowledge and experience in fishing gears and their operation. Using fishermen as instructors would not only provide a vivid instructional environment but also improve communication and future cooperative relationships between the industry and fishery managers.


The objective of the program described here was to improve the understanding of commercial fishing gears and operational methods in use in the northeastern United States for those with professional interests in fisheries but who are not fishermen, to increase their proficiency when dealing with fishing gear related issues. Fishermen training non-fishing professionals will encourage cooperative partnerships and bridge gaps in communication and understanding (Conway & Pomeroy, 2006; Singer, 2005). The specific goals were to:

  • Plan, coordinate, and conduct two 3-day fishing gear workshops with at-sea and on-the-dock components;

  • Involve four commercial fishermen as instructors on fishing gear and their vessels as educational platforms;

  • Provide training opportunities for fishery staff on fishing gear, operational, and contemporary fishery issues.

Workshop Location and Content

In 2005 and 2006, two 3-day workshops were conducted at sea off the coast of New Hampshire and on land at the Urban Forestry Center, Portsmouth, NH. Two commercial trawlers (F/V Mystique Lady and F/V Ellen Diane) and two commercial gillnetters (F/V Marion J. and F/V Kris N' Kev) were used as at-sea demonstration platforms of fishing gear operations.

The goal for the workshop was to be as hands-on as possible and provide opportunities for participants and industry instructors to interact. Several workshop content and scoping meetings were held between the fishermen instructors and academic partners. These meetings were critical for developing the workshop content. Learning objectives were identified by the industry participants that they felt were crucial for understanding not only the day-to-day operations of commercial fishing, but how fishery regulations may affect that process. The academic partners used this information to develop workshop content. The workshop topics included:

  • Trawl gear components, operation, and the fishery

  • Fixed gears, with concentration on gill net components, operation, and the fishery

  • Hands-on mobile and fixed gear identification and explanations

  • Hands-on demonstration of bycatch reduction technologies

  • Fish behavior, selectivity, and conservation in commercial capture fisheries

  • At-sea demonstrations of gillnet and trawl operations

Encouraging natural resource professionals that participating in the workshop was not only a good idea, but an opportunity to build professional relationships with the fishing industry was not difficult. The most recent reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act specifically identified the education of fisheries managers as a key priority. The fishing gear workshop for the non-fishermen represented an opportunity to begin to address this requirement.

Industry Instructors

Commercial fishermen were identified as potential workshop instructors either by their initial interest in the project or for their reputation among the fishing community. Industry participants were given stipends that compensated them for the loss of a day fishing as well as paid for fuel and boat expenses associated with running the at-sea demonstrations.

David Goethel (Figure 1), a commercial trawl fisherman based in Hampton, New Hampshire, was the initial impetus for the workshop concept and worked with He and La Valley during project planning and development stages. Goethel has tremendous experience in fishing gear, operations and fishing grounds in the western Gulf of Maine. He has been involved in various cooperative research projects and is active in fisheries management, currently serving on the New England Fisheries Management Council. Goethel also suggested potential industry partners for the project.

Figure 1.
David Goethel Explains Bycatch Reduction Technologies

Erik Anderson from Portsmouth, NH was also involved with the program since the initial 2005 workshop. Anderson is a gillnet fisherman with more than 30 years of experience. Anderson is the president of the New Hampshire Commercial Fishermen's Association and continues to be involved with NMFS regulatory groups.

The final two fishermen were Joe Jurek, Captain of the F/V Mystique Lady, a trawler based in Seabrook, NH (Figure 2), and Tom Lyons, Captain of the F/V Marion J., a gillnetter based in Hampton, NH.

Figure 2.
Fisherman Joe Jurek Demonstrates Net Mending

Year 1: Initial 2005 Workshop Results

The 2005 workshop, funded by the Northeast Consortium, was a highly effective and well-received program. Sixteen (16) participants, who included government staffers, state and federal fisheries managers, and marine education groups participated in the 3-day program. Following the workshop, the overall rating was very good, with an average of 3.8 to 4.7 out of a possible 5. All of the participants indicated that they would recommend the program to their colleagues if another, similar workshop were held. Recommendations included more hands-on activities and information on the impact of fisheries regulations on day-to-day operations for commercial fishermen.

Year 2: 2006 Workshop Results

Post-workshop evaluations indicated that the overall rating of the workshop was "very good." The individual components of the program were rated by participants as "least useful" to "most useful" on a five-point scale. The results are indicated below in Figure 3. The at-sea gear demonstrations were rated as "most useful." Ninety-percent (90%) of participants reported an extensive increase in their knowledge of fishing gear components and operations following the workshop. The average increase in knowledge was 4.14 on a five-point scale, with (1) being no increase and (5) an extensive increase. All participants reported that they would recommend this workshop to their colleagues. Recommendations by participants for future workshops included topics such as marine aquaculture, increased coverage of specific regulations, and the lobster fishery.

Figure 3.
Participant Content Evaluation Results

Workshop Impact

The workshop in 2006 built upon the 2005 pilot program, recruiting higher numbers of participants. Participants included National Marine Fisheries Service employees, scientists and representatives from state marine agencies, marine education groups, government constituents, and academic institutions. The consistent interest in the project has resulted in planning for a 2007 workshop. Currently, potential funding sources are being considered. The Magnuson reauthorization document has identified fisheries education as a mandated task, specifically programs focused on educating newly appointed regional fisheries council members as well as government managers. It is the hope of the program investigators that this project will be considered for long-term funding by marrying the program to other successful marine education activities.


Conway, F. D. L., & Pomeroy, . (2006). Evaluating the human as well as the biological: Objectives of cooperative fisheries research. Fisheries, Vol. 31(9), 447-454.

Glass, C. W. (2005). Linking cooperative research and management: Partners' needs and interests. Partnerships for a common purpose: Cooperative fisheries research and management. American Fisheries Society Symposium, Vol. 52, 185-187.

Hartley, T., & Read, A. N. (2005). Testimonies from fisheries manager, scientists, and industry: Achievements, lessons, and advice. Partnerships for a common purpose: Cooperative fisheries research and management. American Fisheries Society Symposium, Vol. 52, 11-28.

Singer, L. T. (2005). Scope of cooperative fisheries research in the United States. Partnerships for a common purpose: Cooperative fisheries research and management. American Fisheries Society Symposium, Vol. 52, 3-6.