UWA Oceans Institute

PhD researcher casting out for recreational fishers views

Oceans Institute PhD student, Asha McNeill
Asha McNeill © Northbound Charters


Oceans Institute PhD student, Asha McNeill, is conducting marine research of a different kind and reaching out to West Australian recreational fishers for help. Ms McNeill, who completed her undergraduate degree at UWA in Marine Biology in 2006, has shifted her study focus from marine ecosystems to the human aspects of our oceans – understanding the communities who rely upon them for food, business or leisure.

Ms McNeill’s research is focused around the mid-west coastal region of Western Australia, and has been investigating the social impact of the establishment of the Jurien Bay Marine Park on local communities. The small fishing towns of Green Head, Jurien Bay and Cervantes were at the centre of her research and her initial questioning led her to focus on the most significant development in the region, the changing Western Rock Lobster fishery management as a result of stock concerns in the 2000’s.

The results of her early work broadened her research attention to include recreational fishers across the entire state, in the hope that a better understanding of their needs can lead to better outcomes for fishing communities when planning and implementing policy changes. Her project is currently trying to untangle what are the motivations behind going fishing, how individuals navigate the fishing rules in WA waters, and what they think of marine parks and other regulations used to manage our fish stocks.

“After a few years out of university, I came to the realisation that when we want to look after marine ecosystems, it’s actually the people we’re managing and not the fish or their habitat,” she said.

“I wanted to make that the focus of my PhD, and although it’s been a huge learning curve switching from natural to social sciences, I’m really passionate about my research and where it’s taken me.”

Her current research, entitled RecFishing Visions, employed a 15 minute online survey targeting recreational fishers of all levels and abilities across the state. Considering a stakeholder group comprising of over 700,000 people and a diverse range of fishing values, the research aims to gain a better understanding of the types of recfishers who exist and their preferences for management.

To distribute the survey, Ms McNeill has relied on social media networks and in the process gained experience in a broad range of communication skills, trying her hand at website construction, media interviews and Facebook advertising.

“I’ve been so inspired by the level of support I’ve received with over 550 people taking the time to complete the survey, which reflects how much recreational fishers care about the sustainable management of our marine environment,” she said.

“I can see just how valuable social media has become as a dissemination tool, and there is huge potential to harness this to encourage communities to engage with our research and participate in citizen science.”

For more information or to keep track of her research results in the coming months, see the website www.recfishingvisions.com or her follow her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/recfishingvisions

Read more about the latest news and activities at the UWA Oceans Institute www.oceans.uwa.edu.au/news-events/oceans-online