A tale of two swamps – Fisherfolk and their secrets

Ian has vast experience of talking to fisherfolk, and back in UK is a keen fisherman himself, so he can relate easily to their experiences, despite the different cultures and locations.  And that is so necessary.  Fisherfolk I have met have similar traits; they are suspicious of people who ask them too many questions, especially if it is about what they catch and where they catch it.  I found it extensively when I lived in the Virgin Islands.  With a junior fisheries officer there we devised a method of capturing information about what fish were being caught in the inshore waters.  No fisherman would tell you exactly where his nets and traps were, but they would begrudgingly tell us within a four kilometre square.  Of course I, personally, could never ask them directly; even after two years in BVI I was still an outsider, but my colleague from the west end of Tortola was connected enough to the big extended families of BVI to be trusted with the information. He would head off no his own every morning to the one big Fisheries Complex just outside the capital Road Town with a map showing these two kilometre grids, and would ask them to point.

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The British Virgin Islands – would you tell where you put your nets for the best fishing?

Why fishermen are like this puzzled me for years, and my answer is still an untested theory, but I think it because the resource being taken is not static and where no-one truly has ownership of areas of an extended fishery it is much more competitive than agriculture where land is owned or rented and what is produced on that land is your responsibility to do what you want.  In the sea or in lakes, people lay out equipment and leave it, and they don’t really want to let others know what is happening, but of course there is little cover out in the lagoons or sea, and so you are constantly being observed by your fellow fishers and others passing by.  It tends to produce a lot more reticence to share experience.

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