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Benedict P. Satia[51]


This paper shows that the use of research findings to promote sustainable fisheries production and improved livelihoods in fisheries communities is constrained by a myriad of interrelated factors conditioned by circumstances within and outside the fishery sector. However, recent international developments, particularly the increased emphasis to eliminate the technical, institutional and political obstacles to effective management and use of fishery resources through a series of interactive processes and mechanisms, favour improvements in the relevance of research and reinforces the interface between researchers and users of research findings. The report also provides a list of strategies and mechanisms to bridge the gap between research and action.


Research is vital to building policies contributing to sustainable fisheries and could play an important role in validating and promoting a policy, as well as mobilizing necessary resources. Although significant progress has been made in fisheries research over the last three decades, as seen in the impressive number of peer-reviewed publications and grey literature on capture fisheries and aquaculture[52], the real advantage to fish stocks[53] and humans[54] is difficult to quantify, or even justify, simply through reported status and trends.

This paper accomplishes three main objectives. First, it shows that the missing link between research and action is not comprised of just one factor, but a myriad of interrelated factors conditioned by circumstances within and outside the fishery sector. Second, it discusses the changing international context that favours improvements in the relevance of research and the link between research and the end users[55] of research results. Finally, it provides suggestions to bridge the gap between research and action.

A basic tenet underlining this report is that in order to effectively transform research results into action, researchers and users must be committed to each other. This commitment requires the willingness to build an effective relationship based on shared access to information, communication and transparency.


The interface between research and action is very often problematic because of the different settings in which research and decision-making processes operate. A number of reasons contribute to this challenge, such as different perceptions of the problem or issues, the targeted end-users of research results, inadequate institutional linkages, barriers to communication, etc.

The fisheries scientist[56] and the end user may define the same issue differently. The researcher or scientist may observe a fishery problem by going back almost exclusively to the biotic and abiotic factors affecting fishery resource management and use. The policy-maker, as an example of an end user, on the other hand might frame the same problem in terms of economic and political consequences. Put differently, scientists tend to use the resource as the starting point while policy-makers study the “social consequences” of the resource or the perceived outcome. The proposed solution may reflect this very different understanding of the same fishery problem.

In some cases, the policy-maker or other end user may be interested in treating the immediate symptoms and less interested in addressing the underlying causes. As both the researcher and end user have different perceptions of an issue, the “solutions” proposed by the researcher are unlikely to fit the problem as perceived by the end user. Furthermore, the situation may be complicated by different time horizons: scientists, particularly biologists, often take a longer-term view either because the problems cannot be solved within a shorter period and/or they are not often under great pressure from persons facing problems. On the other hand, policy-makers often have a much shorter time frame to meet political objectives, such as a forthcoming election. Fishers, for livelihood reasons and in the absence of other employment opportunities, may also seek quick results.

In many cases in the scientific establishment, scientists view their peers as the de facto end users of research. Scientists tend to be judged by their scientific output and, in the “publish or perish environment”, very few scientists have experienced career advancement through advice adopted by a fishing community. The attitude of some scientists leaves the impression that research is undertaken for scientific prestige rather than as a contribution to improve the sector or that of any particular fishery stakeholder. This does not deny the fact that in recent years, end users such as fishers, fishworkers and owners have been involved in some research work as participatory approaches are more widely used. Nonetheless, it is probably correct to state that when fisheries research - applied or strategic - is not targeted to the needs of any particular set of end users, the likelihood of it having a significant economic and/or social impact diminishes. This “weakness” is perhaps accentuated by inadequate/inappropriate human capacity development processes[57] and remuneration schemes.

As concerns scientific training, many universities instill a belief in students that pure science and academic science are superior to applied science, leaving students with a view that universities are the better place for employment. Moreover, government pay structures and incentive policies do not really challenge this academic attitude because government scientists are generally less well-compensated and have less attractive working conditions than academics.

In some circumstances, scientists may not view policy-makers as the appropriate client for their research and even policy-makers may not see the research community as producing relevant information for policy-making purposes. Furthermore, even when scientists have very valuable results, some seem to lack the skill to convert or transform such results in a form for decision-making. James Brown[58], in an article on the role of science in fisheries management (with specific reference to fish stocks in European waters), observed that the poor state of many fish stocks in European waters is attributed to a range of causes: scientists are chastised, particularly by industry, for providing poor, inacurate, or overly cautious management advice; managers are criticized for being out of touch with industry needs; management measures adopted by politicians are claimed to serve short-term political goals; and, fishworkers are accused of, or directly implicated in, undertaking unsustainable fishing practices.

Sometimes the research community seems to forget or undermine the crucial role or the major link policy-makers could play in promoting good research: by ensuring such work fits into national development agendas, in providing financial resources, or in the uptake of research results. Without a commitment from policy-makers in the research process, inadequate financial resources might be attributed for research or support services, such as extension programmes and training institutions. Some fisheries researchers tend to consider fishers as the ultimate users of their work, by-passing policy-makers. In these circumstances, problems may be encountered in distributing the results to the end users except when a participatory approach is adopted and includes the active involvement of fishers or fishworkers throughout the entire research process. Difficulties can arise when the research work does not fit into the overall national development plan and policy, when extension services are not able to effectively help disseminate results, and when those who should have been involved in the process are excluded.

On the other hand, some policy-makers look at researchers as suppliers of information to extension services or fishers’ associations, but not to provide advice and input for public policy matters. In this context, there are instances where policy-makers have been receiving reasonable scientific advice for decades but continually ignore it. It is difficult to quantify the extent to which the different time horizons and differently perceived objectives of scientists and end users factor into this situation. The present state of affairs is the result of a shared responsibility, or negligence, by both scientists and end users and strongly reinforces the need for a commitment from each.

Donors and external funding significantly impact fisheries research in developing countries. At times such assistance, although important and potentially useful, does not take into account national priorities and more often than not, research findings are overlooked. For example, staff might be trained in areas that do not correspond to national plans and policies. As a result, such personnel generally face frustrations as they do not have the national support or framework to use their acquired skills in order to improve the national fisheries sector. Whereas in many developed and well-functioning democracies there is likely to be a high degree of political involvement and an educated and aware public, the contrary exists within the institutional setting of some developing countries, particularly low-income developing countries. In such situations, donor influence is very high and policy-makers may tend to impose policy for which research results, if any, may not be taken intoconsideration.

Fisheries as a renewable natural resource lends itself to a multidisciplinary approach in both technical and policy formulation and implementation. This calls for the involvement of all relevant departments and ministries with emphasis on horizontal consultation and coordination. However, this is the exception and not the rule. In some countries, the compartmentalization of ministries may even work against bridging the gap between research and action, the department of fisheries being unaware of developments in fisheries research and vice-versa. It could be hypothesized that developed countries tend to favour strong institutions and, as such, a more research-to-action attitude as the demand for scientific input into the decision making process increases or is demanded by the community and other stakeholders.

The lack of a common communication framework between researchers and end users may impede the flow of information, which may lead to mistrust and antagonism. This can occur because scientists tend to use technical terminology to describe research problems and results whereas policy/ decision-makers tend to use socio-economic, legal or political terminology. And then, at the other end, the fisher or fishworker is not interested in the “jargon” used but simply wishes to have perceived improvements in his/her livelihood. When little attempt is made to find a common nexus, information flow may be interrupted or misunderstandings arise, leaving room for distrust. Furthermore, the analytical nature of research leads scientists to divide problems into component parts usually with little attempt to synthesize the information into “research briefs” which would enable users to reach policy conclusions or more easily utilize the research findings.

Effective and efficient extension services are essential in order to translate research outcomes into forms that managers, fishers and fishworkers can straightforwardly understand and apply. However, the lack of communication between research institutions and extension services may render this virtually impossible in some developing countries. This could be further complicated by the lack of appropriate skills and competence within existing extension services to turn research findings into appropriate extension material.

Scientists tend to look at publications, books or presentations at professional meetings or conferences as material directed mainly to their peers, as the standard means of transmitting research results. In addition, scientists regard timeliness and rapidity as important to win the prize, so research results are apt to be published as soon as available, whereas policy-makers take into account the political agenda and opportunities as well as the social relevance of the conclusions. This suggests that the findings may not be immediately applied or taken into account by policy-makers. Scientists believe that data is not neutral because it is the result of an exercise of value, beliefs and assumptions, whereas policy-makers need to reconcile perspectives and opinions in the framework of available data.


While the above and other factors can impede, or even weaken, the link between fishery researchers and end users and ipso facto action, there are also a number of aspects that favour the increased relevance of research and improve the interface between research and decision-making. The international community is particularly interested in seeing that technical, institutional and political obstacles to effective management and use of fishery resources are corrected. The unanimous adoption of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries by the FAO Conference in 1995 and the content of several other instruments, such as the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security, the United Nations Millennium Declaration adopted by the 54th Session of the General Assembly in 2000, the WSSD Political Declaration and Plan of Action in 2002, demonstrate the widespread commitment of the international community to achieving sustainable fisheries, resources and environment conservation[59]. The international declarations also portray the concerns of the international community for the livelihoods of the world’s poor, a significant proportion of whom are small-scale fishers. In addition, these declarations contain evidence of the increasing interest to promote (fisheries) research as the demands of the international community cannot be met without focused research efforts[60].

Beyond the effects of improved livelihoods and the need to address fisheries problems to ensure that the fisheries sector contributes to internationally-agreed upon development objectives, there are other factors that tend to promote better cooperation between fisheries research and end users, particularly policy-makers. These include increased focus on fisheries governance, democratization and decentralization, increased economic liberalization, new developments in communication and information technologies, and the emergence of new research methods.

Currently, the role of government is changing and stakeholders are assuming greater participation in the decision-making porcess. The challenge for states is how to promote and facilitate fisheries governance that is effective in terms of conservation and economic performance, equitable for both current and future generations, and broadly accepted by all stakeholders. The latter includes those who have a direct and real interest in the fisheries sector and those who do not but who, nonetheless, consider that they have a right to participate in decisions concerning what they deem a heritage of humankind. It is this situation, highly summarized, that challenges States, as national resources custodians, and stakeholders, in reaching arrangements designed to strengthen fisheries governance that will ensure the sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources. This renewed mutual commitment also applies to fisheries research as detailed in Article 12 of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Linked to increase focus on fisheries governance is the fact that new development in communication and information technologies are making it possible to share information widely, quickly and cheaply. Fishers, including small-scale fishers and fishworkers (even in developing countries), have access not only to national radio but also to local community-based radio stations and have cellular telephones. In addition, participatory methods have opened up new avenues to involve users in assessing, planning, executing and evaluating activities, thus improving the knowledge base as well as the environment in which activities are undertaken. The techniques, if well used, provide users with access to information on a wide range of subjects that can improve their livelihoods.

Through democratization and decentralization, governments are becoming more accountable to their people, and local authorities and community members are becoming more involved in activities within their communities. This contributes to increasing awareness about critical sustainable development issues, increases their knowledge of possible solutions and approaches, and also motivates community members to implement change. Briefly, local and community members are undergoing a process of change in which they are no longer only recipients of information but partners in the development of new solutions through research, including the use of local and indigenous knowledge to support sustainable development issues.

Lastly, with the advent of increasing economic liberalization, many governments are appreciating the fact that, where appropriate, they should concentrate more on creating and maintaining a suitable supportive/enabling environment, in particular, a policy and regulatory environment that catalyses private sector initiatives, including research.


Forging an effective interface between research and end users to generate the appropriate conditions that result in the uptake of research findings is a difficult challenge. However, it is possible to capitalize on the worldwide political and institutional developments that are altering the relationships between government and people to bridge the gap between research and action.

Following are a number of strategies or mechanisms that could contribute to bridging this gap:

[51] Dr Satia is Chief of the International Institutions and Liaison Service, Secretary of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) and Secretary of the FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR).
[52] A search in the Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstract (ASFA) database indicates that over 300 000 publications on fisheries and aquaculture were published between 1993 and 2002.
[53] According to FAO, the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) 2002 -, an estimated 9 to 10 percent of fish stocks have been depleted or are recovering from depletion, about 15 to 18 percent are overexploited, another 47 to 50 percent of fish stocks are fully- exploited, and the remaining 25 to 27 percent are underexploited.
[54] Recent international instruments such as the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security, the United Nations Millenium Declaration, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Political Declaration and Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPI) 2002, deplore the increasingly widespread poverty in the world, a significant portion of which consists of those involved in small-scale fisheries.
[55] Research is used and relied upon by a large and varied number of people, policy-makers, donor organizations, fishers and fish workers, as well as civil society organizations.
[56] The term scientist also applies to those undertaking socio-economic work in fisheries.
[57] FAO 2002. Report of the Fourth Session of the FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries (ACFR), FAO Fisheries Report No. 699, Rome, 10-13 December 2002, paras. 58-61.
[58] James Brown 2003. The Role of Science in Fisheries Management. In El Anzuelo, European Newsletter on Fisheries and the Environment, Vol. 12.
[59] In several developed countries, environmental well-being is an important consideration and a growing number of consumers seek assurances that their product choice does not cause environmental harm and social and economic dislocation.
[60] It should furthermore be pointed out that these goals are relatively inexpensive to implement. But when the cost means decreasing jobs or wages, or spending more money on management, decision-makers often are reluctant or fail to deliver on these goals, even if good and relevant scientific information can be used to support the decision.

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