Indiana University doctoral student Shingo Hamada, with the guidance of Dr. Richard Wilk, will undertake research on variability in how different social groups perceive and define successful marine conservation and the effects of that variability on actual marine resource recovery. The project's specific focus will be why herring restoration projects in Japan have developed in coastal communities in the last two decades, despite uncertain benefits both economically and ecologically. This research will contribute to improved understanding of the conditions in which multiple stakeholders engage in conservation efforts and the cumulative ecological effects of their engagement.
The researcher will undertake thirteen months of fieldwork in a fishing community in Hokkaido, northern Japan, where he will focus on the herring industry. The herring industry is particularly important in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami because it has persisted while other fisheries are at risk. Hamada will conduct multiple semi-structured interviews and carry out participant observation in conservation-related events, such as reforestation activities and hatchery operations. He will recruit a wide range of informants, including fishers, seafood entrepreneurs, reforestation project participants and organizers, fishery scientists, and municipal administrators. The researcher will apply a series of social scientific research methods to determine the agreements and variations in the cultural values of herring and herring fishing among actors, and to identify how socio-cultural contexts influence the success of the restoration projects.
The research is important because many conservation projects fail to achieve social and environmental sustainability. Findings from this study will contribute to building theory on what brings about improved human-environment relations and successful collective environmental decision-making. The research also will contribute to the doctoral training of a social scientist.
With the support of a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation, Shingo Hamadaâ€™s research examined socio-political and cultural complexities of fisheries resource conservation, focusing on herring stock restoration research and projects. Coastal communities in Hokkaido experienced the collapse of herring fisheries in the late 1950s through 1960s. This was ultimately caused by a failure to implement a successful management regime of the commonly shared and regulated aquatic resource, but the proximate cause of this collapse was a combination of overfishing, habitat destruction, and oceanic environmental changes. In recent decades, increasing numbers of coastal ecosystem restoration program have been operated in Japan, a situation that has been exacerbated by environmental changes caused by postwar and ongoing economic development in coastal areas. In the eastern Hokkaido, where the researcher spent most time during the ethnographic fieldwork, resource restoration projects such as artificial production of juvenile fish and community-based reforestation have been conducted over the past two decades. Those efforts continue for two decades despite the fact that the recovery of local herring stock has been slow. It is generally believed that community-based resource conservation does not emerge if economic and ecological benefits are uncertain. Instead of reducing the matter of fisheries resource management into bio-economical modeling and labeling it as "fishermenâ€™s problems," this research showed the importance of examining and understanding cultural pluralism in collective action for resource conservation. Cultural values of resources and human-environment interaction vary, and they influence a success (or failure) of fisheries resource management. Hamadaâ€™s ethnographic fieldwork revolved around tracing the presence of multiple ways of perceiving the herring and its ecosystem. This research project investigated why locals continue herring restoration efforts even though the herring fishery is economically still a marginal part of the fishersâ€™ livelihood after a decade of conducting such and the success of restoration projects is uncertain in a both short and long run. This research sought to address and test two hypotheses: H1) participants with different economic benefits share generally positive cultural values about herring and herring fishing, and these values drive conservation efforts. H2) Participants agree that restoration projects are successful, but their definitions of success vary. He hoped to identify cultural values attached to the herring and to describe a disjuncture in the collective action for fishery resource conservation. The awarded NSF grant was used to support his ethnographic fieldwork in northern Japan for a total of 14 months (between summer 2011 through spring 2013). He spent extensive days and hours with inshore fishers to observe and participate in their fishing activities. Although this research focused on herring fishing, he found that very few fishers make a living only by engaging in herring fishing in the community he conducted this ethnographic fieldwork. Therefore, with approvals from individual fishers and local fishery cooperatives, he participated in fishing in addition to gill net herring fishing, including kelp harvesting, smelt trawling, gill net flounder fishing, crab and whelk trap fishing, oyster and clam aquaculture. participant observation for those fisheries enabled me a better description and analysis of the importance and particularity of the herring for local fishers. He also spent much of his time in semi-structured interviews with informants and "inquisitive observation" at a local regional fish market and fisheries science labs. Rather than focusing only on what fishers do, this ethnographic research explored the production, distribution, and consumption of aquatic resources. Many studies offer detail descriptions of different social groups (e.g. fishers, buyers, scientists, and â€˜herring), but this ethnographic research chose to describe them together in order to capture the complexity of the process of a collective action for resource conservation. His engagement with them was not as participatory as fishing activities because I could not participate in auction and laboratory experiment. Nevertheless, he visited the market and research facilities as many times as possible, and many of buyers and fisheries researchers agreed to participate in his semi-structured interviews. He was also able to gather a good amount of archival/documentary data, owing to the assistance from local libraries and regional stations of fisheries research institutes. He returned to his field sites in summer 2013 for follow-up meetings and revising his dissertation chapters. He met with the informants whom he wanted to quote in his dissertation. He adjusted their statements based on the follow-up interviews, or to remove the quotations if they wished me to for accrete interpretation and confidentiality. He also made two trips to different cities in northern Japan the summer 2013 for collecting archival records and meeting with key interviews that he could not obtain in his main field sites. He finished and submitted his dissertation in March 2014, which will be available online through ProQuest by the end of 2014.