Fishing for Attitudes: Beliefs and Values for Fisheries Management

Fisheries management in the United States is an intricate system. Like most resource management contexts, fisheries management is an amalgam of stakeholder opinions ranging from recreational anglers to commercial fishers. In the United States, it is estimated that recreational anglers spent $48 billion dollars on fishing-related expenses in 2012 (American Sportfishing Association, 2013) and commercial fisheries were valued at $5.1 billion dollars (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2013). Given the economic impact, a manager can assume that stakeholder opinions and attitudes about fisheries management can vary in complexity, posing difficult questions about how to manage a natural resource for everyone.

Unlike other natural resource management contexts, fisheries management provides a unique challenge. It is likely that in the United States, every citizen knows or has participated in fishing themselves. Fishing is the 2nd most popular outdoor recreation activity, next to running/jogging. An estimated 47.2 million Americans (15.9%) participated in freshwater, saltwater, or fly fishing in 2016 (Outdoor Participation Report, 2017). In contrast to fishing, other wildlife management contexts have far fewer participants. Only 5.2% of Americans participated in hunting and only 7.0% participated in wildlife viewing. Given the number of stakeholders and potential for varying attitudes and public opinion, how should a fisheries manager ensure that attitudes are carefully incorporated into management decisions?

The first aspect of stakeholder attitudes that must be assessed for fisheries management should be the breadth of the supporting horizontal value structure to specific attitudes. Every environmental attitude has an underlying structure of general values and related beliefs. When an attitude is supported by more than one value, it is said to have horizontal structure (see Figure 1 for an example of deep horizontal structure and Figure 2 for shallow horizontal structure). Attitudes that have deep horizontal structure are more resistant to external forces and therefore more difficult to change (Heberlein, 2012). For fisheries management, identifying stakeholders with deep horizontal structure can enable managers to more carefully construct messages and programs that tactfully engage these individuals. Furthermore, identifying stakeholders with shallow horizontal structure can enable managers to target broader messages to a majority whose attitudes are not well supported by multiple values.

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Aside from the structure of attitudes, the very nature of attitudes provides clues how managers can purposeful engage various stakeholders. There are three basic principles to attitudes. The first principle suggests that attitudes over time stay consistent. For fisheries managers, understanding that long held attitudes are likely going to persist is invaluable for the creation of new outreach programs and policy making decisions. The second principle is that attitudes connected to direct experience often have deeper horizontal value structure and therefore are more resistant to change. For a fisheries manager, this principle suggests that people who actually go fishing or engage with a watershed are likely to have stronger attitudes. The third principle is that attitudes connected to identity are more emotional and therefore more resistant to change. This principle provides similar policy perspectives as the second. To engage a stakeholder who identifies with a specific fishing location, they are likely going to have more well developed attitudes and therefore more stable attitudes.

A fisheries manager must be aware that stakeholders with long held attitudes, direct experience with the resource, and identity related to the resource are going to be much more resistant to attitude change. Knowing the principles of attitudes can enable managers to best allocate time and resources to more purposefully engage different audiences for different purposes. For stakeholders with weaker attitudes, managers need to be aware that attitudes are easier to change, but this is not an easy task. Even well-meaning messages and policies have the potential to backfire and produce a source of direct experience for stakeholders to build opposing attitudes. For stakeholders with strong attitudes, messages may need careful tailoring if policy change will conflict with stakeholder attitudes. Furthermore, stakeholders with strong attitudes are also potential allies for managers if policy decisions align with their attitudes, as these stakeholders are likely passionate about the subject at hand. Through social science research, managers can further their understanding of stakeholder attitudes and better develop management polices that enable optimized utility among stakeholders.