John Williamson

Co-Founder and Program Lead, MREP New England

It was late 1990's and there was real concern over the viability of the fishing community—groundfish community in New England and there was monies being made available for fishermen to work in collaborative research.  In the course of that discussion, the fishermen on the research steering committee, trying to understand what it was that the community needed to know. What were the questions that were most relevant to fishermen?  What were the questions that were most relevant to management?  How do we encourage fishermen to work with scientists and partner with them effectively?  It was during those discussions with the committee that some of us were saying—'we need to actually have a training program for fishermen to just get the rudiments, get familiar, get their confidence level'.

The strength of the program is captured in the phrase that it is 'by fishermen, for fishermen'. We need to get fishermen in the same room learning from scientists, we also need to get scientists in the same room learning from fishermen. But then the third piece of that is that we need to stimulate within the community of fishermen talking to each other about what is professionalism, and sharing their skills—sharing some of the special skills that you don't get just by working on the water every day. So part of the central tenant for MREP is it is fishermen teaching other fishermen how to be effective at participating in the management and the science processes. The issues that the community is talking about now are different than they were 10 years or 15 years ago. There still is a need for the primary objective of MREP, which is to create a neutral location where fishermen, scientists, managers can talk about their experiences on the water, can share information. Where everybody is on a level playing field—is what stimulates and allows constructive conversation and that is our primary purpose.