Communicating the “Unsolveable”: Stakeholders in the Oyster Fishery in Chesapeake Bay

The problems within the oyster fishery in the Chesapeake Bay are well known and go back for decades. Historic levels of overfishing have led to depleted stocks and intense competition over rights and access to the fishery today; more and more groups want a piece of this shrinking pie. The pieces of this pie however do not all have similar intentions and this diversity among slices has led to massive miscommunication and distrust within the fishery. Everyone living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a stakeholder, whether they realize it or not, but certain groups of stakeholders appear more frequently in the ongoing oyster fishery discussions. Watermen don’t trust the science about oyster stocks, government officials are setting catch limits without consulting aquaculturists needs and NGO’s have their own agenda to support their cause. With the variety of interests within the fishery, tensions naturally arise and not everyone will be able to get exactly what they want. But it is exactly because of that fact that the groups involved need to interact with and consult each other. Bringing together these diverse stakeholder groups is at the core of my research; I want to see how they interact with each other and work together to form policy recommendations for the future of the oyster fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. An especially key component of this is gauging how the stakeholder groups react to and incorporate the science they are presented about the state of the fishery. Stakeholders’ confidence and levels of understanding concerning the science of a fishery is key to properly managing it; if stakeholders don’t believe in the science that was used to form policy aka catch limits, they will not follow them.  Even more specifically, I am looking at their opinions on the role of social science in this process, and its role in marine science in general. This is the facet of my research that this project will focus on, helping ensure that the stakeholder groups know how to discuss the science, their role in this project and the role of social science in the process.

Taking into consideration my unique situation where I have access and opportunity to work with an array of stakeholder options as part of my research, I decided to focus on the one that could make the largest difference. The stakeholder group I am looking to connect with most strongly during my research is the watermen because I feel like this group has the greatest potential at reaching out to other stakeholders not directly involved in our grant research project and the most to gain from my project. The other stakeholders that are a part of my research (NGO’s, government officials, managers, etc.) don’t have as much freedom with their speech as the watermen do and it is more important to me that the people who will feel the greatest impacts from the end result of an oyster policy plan in terms of economic livelihood, the watermen, have these resources. That’s why I’m planning to consult with Karen Hudson who works as a Shellfish Aquaculture Specialist at VIMS and has ample experience communicating with this group of stakeholders. I figure she knows how to address this group very well and my project will highly benefit from her expertise.

My project idea is to create a set of “elevator talk” guidelines for watermen to help them better understand and communicate to others about the research that we are doing and that they are an integral part of; without them and the other stakeholder groups, this research could not occur. A huge part of my overall research project assumes that between meetings that we will hold over the next 3 to 4 years, the stakeholders will be talking to their friends, neighbors, family and other stakeholders about the proceedings of these meetings. Since this communication is going to happen and is encouraged even, I want to ensure that they know how to start the conversation or answer broad questions about what they are doing and what our overall goals as scientists are . The elevator points will focus on three separate areas of concern

  1. What are the overall goals of the Coastal SEES (larger research project)?
    1. Letting them know what exactly we are doing here and why
  2. Their role as a stakeholder in these meetings.
    1. Why did we invite them?
    2. What can they contribute?
    3. What are they expected to contribute?
  3. The importance of social science in research
    1. Why should they care about social science in research?
    2. What benefits does including social science have in research?

The watermen stakeholders will be asked questions about all of these aspects so I want them to be prepared with ideas of how to answer. I am going to emphasize and try to format the elevator talking points as such so that they don’t seem like forced speeches but instead seem like diving boards, jumping off points for conversation. I think this will address the concerns of the watermen stakeholders because they want to know the answers to these questions too and if we provide good answers for them that they can understand, they can then spread that information around. The watermen stakeholders are obviously interested since they made this 3 to 4 year time commitment; my goal is to ease their ability to communicate with others so that they, and the people they talk to, see the science of this project as less intimidating and more understandable.


One thought on “Communicating the “Unsolveable”: Stakeholders in the Oyster Fishery in Chesapeake Bay

  1. Hi Taylor!

    This afternoon I’ve added a new category to your post: Websites/Web Writing.
    If you go to the Communication Projects menu at the top of the site and click on Websites/Web Writing, you’ll see all of the seminar participants who are working on this type of communication project. We hope this will help connect you with other participants who are working on a similar challenge. Please feel free to provide feedback and comments on others’ posts, and when you post your first draft, please make sure to check the category for your name as well as Websites/Web Writing.

    You’re project doesn’t fit too snugly in that category, but I think you’ll find that others in that area are working on similar challenges—wordsmithing.

    I’ll dig up some additional resources for you about developing talking points and sound bites. In the meantime, the top two resources on this page of the Seminar site might be helpful to you:

    More to come! If you have questions, let me know. If not, looking forward to your first draft on December 4!

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