Sunday, July 17, 2016

Perceptions of marine litter – why should we try to understand the values, norms and worldviews of a small group of artisanal fishermen?

Early morning fishing, Jisr-az-Zarqa
 I’ve spent the past 4-5 months doing fieldwork in a small, Eastern Mediterranean town. Jisr-az-Zarqa (Jisr), the only exclusively Arab town on the Israeli coastline, is economically distressed and densely populated – 14,500 people live in an area of 1.6km2. It has high unemployment and many families live below the poverty line. About 30 artisanal fishermen (all with families), live in the town of Jisr. They have huts (where they store their fishing gear – gill nets and long lines) in Jisr’s ‘fishing village’ which is located on Jisr’s undeveloped shoreline. Five years ago, one of the fishermen turned his hut (without planning permission) into a restaurant – serving freshly caught fish at weekends. Since 2010, the Israeli government have been putting together a new development plan for Jisr, and the Israel National Parks Authority (INPA) have put together another plan to expand existing nature reserve and national park designations in the area. Neither of the plans have yet been implemented. Many of the changes proposed by the INPA plan involve development of the shoreline, including deepening and enlarging the harbour, replacing the fishing huts with ‘nicer’ buildings and restaurants, and building a coastal walkway along the beach. The beach in Jisr is designated as a national park (where it is permitted to have developments, such as restaurants), in contrast to the adjoining Taninim nature reserve, where the purpose is conservation of the environment and where no development is allowed. The shoreline is owned by the State and managed by the Israeli Land Administration (Minhal Mekarkei Yisrael).

Popular local swimming hole, Jisr-az-Zarqa
The research I’m doing is a pilot project which aims to explore perceptions of litter in Jisr (both town and fishing village), identify the main challenges to the prevention of litter (including derelict fishing gear) on Jisr’s beach and in its sea, and to identify approaches that could reduce the marine and coastal litter in Jisr’s fishing village area. Although the importance of research into perceptions of marine litter has increased in recent years, there is actually very little in-depth qualitative research on perceptions of marine litter. Research to date has tended to use quantitative surveys to explore such perceptions.

Bathing beach litter, Jisr-az-Zarqa
 So far, I’ve carried out in-depth interviews with 6 local fishermen and 5 representatives of two institutional structures directly relevant to the governance of Jisr’s shoreline – the Israel National Park Authority (Rashut HaTeva ve HaGanim) and Jisr’s local council. One of the main objectives of the pilot project is to provide insights into how artisanal fishermen perceive marine litter and their awareness of its impact on their fishing activities and the marine environment. As I started interviewing the fishermen (in Arabic, with the help of Mona Sabbah, an Arabic-speaking research assistant), it became increasingly evident that their relationships with the governing institutions (and the relationships between those institutions) were directly relevant to the challenges to the prevention of litter on Jisr’s shoreline. In short, and unsurprisingly, the underlying historical, cultural, social and political context matters a lot. Understanding this local context is crucial in providing guidance on whether certain measures to reduce marine litter would work or not. 

For example, there are usually no bins on, or near, the beach. People who visit the beach (locals and non-locals alike) generally leave their litter behind them. The initial fishermen I interviewed complained that they don’t have a big skip nearby, and alleged that the council has refused to provide them with one. However, when a skip appeared a few weeks ago (put there by the INPA), it lasted about a week before it was burnt. Some of the fishermen had been using it, and so had employees of the INPA, who recently started to regularly clean the beach. So why was it burnt? 

The INPA skip - before and after
The in-depth interviews helped me to understand that most of the fishermen are hugely distrustful and suspicious of the INPA. There is an ingrained fear of (government-driven) improvement of an area leading to dispossession and loss of control – over land and over resources. Environmental protection is perceived as a poorly disguised tool of oppression. The fishermen’s narrative goes like this: ‘the INPA and the government only want to clean this place up so they can clear us (the fishermen) out of here and have it for themselves’. The historical context here is crucial: Palestinian-Israelis have a very complex and difficult relationship with the land. As one person (not from Jisr) put it to me – ‘It is yours, but it’s not yours, so you don’t care at the same time as you do care. You love the place, but hate the place. You want to see it clean, but you f*!^ it up.’

High school students collecting litter from road leading to Jisr's beach
 These insights have important practical relevance if we think about what measures might be effective to reduce marine litter on Jisr’s shoreline. It’s certainly not as simple as putting bins on or near the beach (the council tried that three years ago – they were burnt too). Before bins are put there, questions should be asked, such as: 
·      Who is providing the bins?
·      What kind of relationship do the fishermen have with the institution that is putting the bins there?
·      What institution(s) (if any) do they trust, and under what circumstances?
·      What would need to change in order to prevent bins on the beach being vandalised and to ensure that they are used?

In short, we need to understand the values, worldviews and norms of local coastal users so that we can figure out what kind of policy interventions will work – and which ones will most definitely not.
(Published research article available here)

Sunset, fishermen's beach, Jisr-az-Zarqa

No comments:

Post a Comment