Campus News

Herrera Named Senior Research Fellow at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Story posted September 16, 2003

Bowdoin Assistant Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Guillermo "Ta" Herrera was recently named a senior research fellow at the Marine Policy Center of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Herrera will be at the Center through next summer.

The fellowship will allow Herrera to work on research involving fishing regulations and another project focusing on the relationship between the tourism and fishing industries.

Herrera's dissertation research dealt with fisheries management, in particular issues of bycatch. (Since different types of fish often inhabit the same terrain, someone fishing for one kind of fish may end up with something else in the net. Bycatch is the name given to these non-target species.) Much of that work was on west coast fisheries, and his stint at Woods Hole will allow him to turn his eye eastward: he plans to investigate the relative advantages of community governance of fisheries rather than top-down governmental management.

"One of the things that's intrigued me, moving from the west coast to Maine, is how the idiosyncrasies of fishing communities, combined with those of the fish themselves, make a particular fishing industry more or less amenable to different types of regulation."

Commercial fishing on the West Coast has a different character than that in Maine: the fishing outfits are larger, more industrial operations.

"In Maine, fishing tends to be done by people in a fairly close knit, permanent communities," Herrera said.

Fishing on the West Coast is also considered to be more "elastic," meaning that it's easier for people to leave fishing for another industry. But in Maine, where many fishing communities are small, leaving fishing for other work is less an option for economic reasons. In addition, the fishers tend to have a great deal of personal and emotional investment in those communities.

"They identify with place much more here than is true in other areas," Herrera said.

These differences mean that the methods used to regulate fishing on the west coast aren't necessarily the best methods to use in places like Maine. Herrera wants to look at how these differences should inform regulation.

For example, the perceptions of the fishing community can affect whether fishers comply with the regulations. How credible the fishers find the regulations affects their willingness to comply, and that sense of credibility is directly related to the type of information the government has about the fishery. So, in instances where it's difficult for the government to gather information that will allow the creation of regulations fishers find credible, community management of the fishery might make more sense than government oversight.

Research into this topic is largely theoretical and based on economic models, but Herrera also plans to embark on some empirical research. Along with a colleague at the University of Nevada-Reno, Herrera will gather information about tourists perceptions of fisheries, specifically how important the aesthetic value of the fisheries are to tourists.

There is a general sense that tourists consider quaintness and the authenticity of a working fishing community when determining where to spend their time (and money). Herrera and his colleague will survey tourists to get a more concrete idea of how they value fishing communities, something important to consider since fishing regulation could in turn affect the tourism industry.

For example, regulations permitting quota trading have tended to centralize an area's fishing industry. If some fishers opt to sell their quota rights to a larger entity in a different town, they reduce the amount of fishing in their own area. This makes it harder for fishing related businesses to support themselves. If those businesses close, it becomes more difficult for the remaining fishers to do their work, so they may also opt to sell their quota rights. In the end, then, the fishing is no longer done by the small fishing operations in that community, but by the larger industrial operation in another place. If this kind of regulation in Maine led to a concentration of fishing in the Portland area rather than in other towns up the coast, and if the presence of fishing communities was drawing tourists to the state, that fishing regulation could end up hurting the tourist industry.

Herrera and his colleague, Klaus Moeltner, hope to obtain funding and be ready to begin surveying next summer on the Vinalhaven ferry.

"A ferry trip is a perfect opportunity," Herrera said. On the ferry, the researchers would have a captive audience among the passengers. They're hopeful about funding coming through. "There seems to be a lot of interest. People seem to think it's a worthwhile question to ask."

Though Herrera hasn't worked directly with Woods Hole researchers in the past, he has long been familiar with their work and looks forward to forging ties with the researchers there.

"I look forward to immersing myself in the Woods Hole research community, since it is a hotbed of people with interests very compatible with my own," he said. "The position will give me the opportunity to focus on my own ongoing research as well as start some new projects and establish some new collaborations - a number of which will hopefully persist long after I have come back to Bowdoin."

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