Fisheries and the Distrust of Science

Our second day of preparation for our trip began with an hour of Japanese. 私は一年生ので、むずかしかったです。We went over honorific structure and introductions… hopefully we will be able to practice it more!

Afterward, biology professors Amy Johnson and Olaf Ellers came to lead the discussion on the following readings:

  1. Endless Modernization by Satsuki Takahashi
  2. Four-fold Disaster by Satsuki Takahashi

Biology is almost entirely absent in discussion on fisheries. To begin, Professor Selinger asked what disciplines we thought these papers belonged to. I would have never thought to ask a question like that, but it is such a relevant question considering the focus of our trip is to view subjects through an interdisciplinary lens. We decided that the first article seemed like it was written by a (social) historian while the second article seemed to be written by an anthropologist. Biology was never mentioned because whenever fisheries were talked about, there were only nonspecific descriptions–there was no mention of what species, where they came from, etc. I actually didn’t notice this upon reading (shame on me), but I’m glad it was pointed out. I would just assume that scientists would be involved in fishery management, but this is actually not the case! However, we did have two biology professors in the room, so we dove right into population growth curves and what the maximum sustainable yield model is. One of the problems with this model is that it does not account for environmental variation. Basically, it works until it doesn’t.

Professor Johnson showed us a graph depicting the fishery boom, which happened shortly after World War II. What was really surprising (but actually not that surprising when you think about it) was that this pattern–basically, stability then boom then collapse then stability then collapse–happened in pretty much every country. It is not unique to Japan (yay we’re all greedy and ignorant). Another interesting tidbit: when we fish, we tend to take the biggest ones available. This adds a selective pressure, allowing the smallest and/or slowest-growing fish to survive and reproduce. Eventually the fish become all small, which is not desirable for humans. How do we prevent this? The easiest solution would be to either stop fishing or select for small fish, but I doubt anyone would ever do that…. This is probably why we farm fish and genetically modify them to grow bigger and at a faster rate. There is also the Roughgarden model, which basically allows for an optimal population size despite the unknown variables (such as how many fish there are in the population and what their reproduction rate is). Sounds perfect! Except that no one cares for some reason (maybe it’s not as profitable?). Again, there is a problem in the fishery industry in that scientists are only begrudgingly involved, if there’s any involvement.

Hope is a thing with scales. (With all the talk about hope, I couldn’t help myself.) From the second reading, we learn that fishermen described the disaster on March 11, 2011 as four-fold: there was the earthquake (natural), tsunami (natural), radiation contamination (manmade), and deadly rumor (manmade). The words in the parenthesis reference what kind of disasters they were. Something interesting from the reading is that Professor Takahashi makes a distinction between the social repercussions of each type of disaster. Natural disasters bring people together whereas manmade disasters don’t since people don’t want to rebuild in contaminated areas. But there’s hope to be had! Some interesting questions that came up from this reading include: what is hope vs delusion? Is hope having alternative fisheries to sustain you? What about a fishery available for many generations? Or is hope just doing something to pay our bills? (Like fishing out whatever you can to sell then fishing for the next.) And what happens when we use tourism to help out fisheries (like opening a seafood restaurant or farmer’s market)? It seems likely that the fishery will cease to exist.

Questions to ask Professor Takahashi:

  • Does she make a distinction between maximum sustainable yield model and the maximum economical yield model?
  • What extent have these models been modified?
  • How do disasters affect the models?
  • What fisheries models are commonly used?
  • Is there awareness of the Roughgarden model?
  • How much of an impact is the Tragedy of the Commons?
  • How much are scientists involved in policies regrading fisheries?
  • Is there a fear of regulation among Japanese fishermen? (Since there is such a fear among Maine fishermen.)
  • How do fishermen manage to keep the fish so fresh? How local is the fish? How do they access the fish/choose which fish to catch?
  • How much trust is there in the fishermen regarding radiation? (Should we trust where they say the fish come from?

It was another intellectually-engaging day in the Asian Studies conference room! The significant takeaway from this session is that we were able to discuss these readings from a biological perspective. We also were able to prepare some questions for when we meet Professor Takahashi in Japan. Big thank you to Professor Johnson and Professor Ellers for meeting with us, and of course thank you to our senseis for organizing everything.

P.S. Unfortunately, I will be missing the next two meetings (currently writing this post in a hotel room in Baltimore) because I have to watch my sister graduate. But fear not, I will still be doing the readings and updating the blog while I’m away.

P.P.S. The past two discussions had a common theme of distrusting science. It’s interesting to note that Japan has a general trust of science whereas the US does not. So, I want to put in a shameless plug for an outreach project in science communication that Bowdoin students (including myself) have put together: click here.

Author: Karen Chan '18

Hello! I just completed my junior year at Bowdoin College as a chemistry major and recently-declared Japanese Language minor. I am from Honolulu, HI so Japanese culture has always been part of my life, but this trip is the opportunity to go beyond my classroom language experience and Japanese-food-eating experience. My interest in this project stems from my science background and my hope to eventually be a pharmacist in a hospital setting. I plan to focus on public awareness of "environmentally-caused" diseases, like Kawasaki Disease.