Following up: Use Conflicts in Narragansett Bay

This article is a follow-up to the May 15th SMP Stakeholder Meeting Presentation:
Room Enough for Everyone? Understanding Human Uses & Interactions in RI Coastal Waters
Tracey Dalton (Associate Professor, URI Marine Affairs)
Robert Thompson (Associate Professor & Chair, URI Marine Affairs)
Download the presentation (pdf).
View the presentation on Slideshare.

By Tracey Dalton

Thanks for giving us an opportunity to talk about human uses and interactions at the SMP stakeholder meeting in May.  We hope that our presentation provided some insights and generated more discussion on social carrying capacity.  Like social carrying capacity, many of the key issues raised so far in the SMP process relate to people and how they think and what they do in Rhode Island’s waters.  For those of us who devote a lot of time to studying people who work, live and spend time in coastal areas, this presents a great opportunity to help address important issues right here in RI.  We appreciate this chance to follow-up on your questions.  While we’re trying to keep things brief here, we are willing to talk more about any of these issues—feel free to contact Rob or me directly (see contact information below).

First, there were some follow-up questions on our Bayscape project that mapped human uses in the upper Narragansett Bay.  Rob and I didn’t spend too much time in our talk going over the details of that project, so we wanted to fill you in on it a bit more.  We received some funding from the RI Sea Grant to map human activities in the upper Narragansett Bay (from Conimicut point into the Seekonk River) during the summers of 2006 and 2007.  For that project, Rob, myself, and several undergraduate and graduate students traveled up and down the upper Bay on twenty-five randomly selected days each summer.  With the use of some high-tech equipment, we were able to record all activities going on on-the-water (such as quahogging, shipping, sailing, and many others) and along the shoreline (such as biking or recreational fishing).  We created maps of the activities and analyzed if any particular features (such as weather conditions, availability of parking near access points, days of the week) were influencing what people were doing.  Our study showed that this type of observational approach can provide useful insights about the levels and types of activities going on in an area, but its results are pretty specific to the upper Bay during the time of our study.  That is why we are interested in extending this earlier work to other areas in Rhode Island and applying it to specific management issues, like shellfish planning and management.  Right now, we are writing proposals to conduct some follow-up studies, and we’d be interested in hearing from you about ways to make them as useful as possible.  Feel free to send us an email or give us a call.

Second, there were some questions that related to social science more generally.  It seems that many SMP participants are more familiar with–and probably more comfortable with–the tools of natural science than those of social science.  That isn’t too surprising.  Just think, when you hear “scientist”, you probably conjure up an image of someone wearing  a white lab coat and swirling a test tube or someone trekking through a salt marsh collecting specimens.  Not many of us would think of someone sitting on a dock listening to the observations, stories, and reflections of fishermen.  But what many people don’t realize is that all three of these individuals could be doing science.  Like chemists, ecologists and other natural scientists, social scientists such as anthropologists, economists, and political scientists use systematic methods to collect data and rigorous analytical techniques to make sense of it.  Our data just happen to be on people—how they think, act, and manage their behaviors—rather than on the natural environment.  Luckily for us, there are many well-established social science techniques that we can use to collect and analyze these types of data.

Finally, the question was raised about how social science can be used to inform coastal planning and management.  This is not an easy question to answer.  In fact, there are social scientists and other researchers who specialize in this very topic–trying to understand how to effectively integrate sound science (from natural & social sciences) into resource management decisions.   Most of these researchers agree that science and management should not be thought of as two separate processes, where a study is first conducted by a scientist and then the results are used by decision makers to solve a problem.  Instead, scientists and other participants in the decision making process have to work together throughout the process to shape the science and how it might be used to solve problems.  The good news is that interactions between scientists and SMP participants have been happening throughout the SMP process.  Early discussions of SMP participants identified a number of important issues, including user conflict, social carrying capacity, compliance & enforcement, and agency coordination, that could be better understood through the use of social science tools.  Ideally, social scientists and other SMP participants will continue to interact as projects are developed, data gets collected & analyzed, and findings become part of the broader discussions on RI shellfish planning and management.

Thanks again for this chance to follow-up on our talk.  If you have questions, comments or general feedback, please contact us by email or phone:

Tracey Dalton, URI Department of Marine Affairs, or 401-874-2434
Robert Thompson, URI Department of Marine Affairs, or 401-874-4485