Monday, November 17, 2008

354. First Job as Objective (Non-Side-Taking) Recorder for Fisheries Stakeholder Meetings

I signed a form (err, some Memorandum of Agreement), and honestly I don't know what I am signing my life away to (I signed this form a couple of weeks ago and I received it in Return Mail! So I am going to have to FedEx this puppy ASAP!). The wording of the fisheries contract is so official. I know a guy named Wilson (who's a great writer and probably finished with law school by now) who says he always reads The Fine Print, even the Fine Print for credit card agreements. I guess that's what lawyers are trained to do: read the fine print, pick it apart, and see where there are flaws and loopholes in the logic. So, right now I am reading Fine Print once again, and all that flashes to my head are not big, scary formal words, but more so one of the most pleasant conversations I had ever had with Drs. Carrie Culver, John Richards, and Diane Pleschner-Steele, all very enthusiastic, intelligent individuals involved in fisheries more so with a foot-in-the-door-with-the-university-government-and-the-public. More outreach-type characters of the university rather than "purebred, ivory tower academics" with a potentially higher degree of isolation from Reality, whatever reality is. I don't even know whether people OUTSIDE the university even know what Reality is, let alone myself. Diane, John, Carrie, and I had a very extensive conversation a few weeks ago (which I wished could have been recorded, it was so cool!), all over a sushi lunch (I had Teriaki chicken and California rolls) at Takenoya Japanese Restaurant off of Calle Real, in Goleta, California. Even though I was sleep-deprived I think that it worked toward my benefit, because my social guard was quite down and the ability to express my views were much more fluid due to the lack of policing of my social consciousness. Diane (as well as John and Carrie) informed me about the political/governmental baseline for the upcoming fisheries stakeholder meetings. They described to some degree the characters involved in the creation of upcoming marine protected areas and their general understandings or positions of these characters. Given my existing mental database of contacts in fisheries, I asked how several marine scientists at UC Santa Barbara and in the vicinity would be involved in these fisheries stakeholder meetings. So, I have a clearer, yet still low-resolution picture of who's who, who does and thinks what, and how they will be involved. But, the higher resolution will ultimately come from my participation in the upcoming fisheries meetings.... Are there any universal truths of huma behavior, or does it boil down to the unique interactions of a series of distinctive personalities? We shall see.

During our munching on sushi (talk about consuming the organisms that we study), I provided some of my background involved in fisheries (apparently John Richards saw my rock crab film on Youtube! he had a pretty enthusiastic response!) and I described myself as desiring to be an Objective Observer and Recorder. I am not interested in taking sides of any particular group of individuals (which makes me really bad in being a competitive athlete), but I am more so interested in the conclusions and perceptions of stakeholders and how do they come to their conclusions (which may make me a more successful compromiser, problem-solver and collaborative visionary). Kind of like some form of universal "scientific method" for analyzing all forms of human thinking. The issue about stakeholder "conclusions" is that in many occasions the conclusions "differ" and I want to show that the differences are not only in word usage, but in value systems and cognitive maps. But, as a Keen Notetaker, the most important thing I do is be a friendly, optimistic presence, recording nearly all the things that are happening in these fisheries stakeholders meetings that are catered toward getting fishermen more involved in the process of creating Marine Protected Areas in southern California, fulfilling the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), initiated around 1999--pardon my vague and fuzzy memory. Diane mentioned "This process is not science. This is politics." But I find it ironic though, in my mind that I consider politics and human behavior as a form of science and I view all forms of science as heavily political--the pursuit of science is ultimately an endeavor of Collective Common Agreement. So scientific practice BY DEFAULT is political, unless you are independently funded to do your research and don't have to be at the mercy of what the rest of the world thinks.

Overall, I really bonded with Diane, John, and Carrie, and I am excited to work with a system that keeps me close to the ocean and adds something to the dinner table conversation--my father's got the vegetation and wildland fire and I've got the fisheries deal. Land and ocean. Got most of the earth's surface covered right there. The tragedy for me is that land can easily be partitioned in space and time, but the ocean is one giant soup--err, swimming pool, err-meshpot of abiotic and biotic factors and systems can't be defined so concretely. The rules of the game change pretty rapidly. Makes me feel jealous about my father's and Armand Kuris' work, where systems can be discretely defined. as Todd Huspeni stated one time in class, "One of the most defined habitats on planet Earth is a rat's gut." That was so profound. And so true.

I also mentioned that I am tickled with my pre-existing experiences with fisheries. Particularly how I encountered "environmental stereotypes" of fishermen during my in-classroom schooling at UC Santa Barbara. But then, upon pursuing a rock crab film, I encountered several interesting, witty characters who transformed my initial narrow perception of fishermen into an expansive, multi-dimensional story of a few of the last remaining professions that require very generalist, interactive knowledge of the land--much like my grandfather's generation. People working directly with the land in a tradesman/craftsman sort of way is like a dying-breed of jobs. At least in my generation. At least in California. I have probably mentioned this before, but if I ever hosted a Biologically Incorrect Comedy Night, the first people on my list would be geologists, biologists, and fishermen (and potentially ranchers).

I have known Dr. Carrie Culver for quite a while--since my undergrad days in her thorough presentation of biocontrol in sabellid worms within abalone. We had several intermittent conversations over the years and she had been very supportive of my desire to pursue science and outreach. And right now it is very exciting to work along side her.

Right now there has been quite a bit of email correspondance going on, and I wished I could keep up as much as I should, but due to the passing of my grandfather, several systems of my life have collapsed, as if my sense of self and reality were like some Collapsed Fishery (where everything tumbles down, but not just the vanishing of fish, but the alteration and collapse of lives and infrastructure and human relationships involved with this pursuit of fishing). But not all fisheries are collapsed, and some can be rebuilt, or reconstructed in such a way that can be sustained. Everyone comes out win-win-win, all with some degree of sacrifice.

With death comes rebirth. Such is the way of the phoenix. Death clears space (at a micro or macro scale), and makes it vacant for new ideas. It just takes a lot of time to rebuild yourself. And rebuild relationships. I hope that my involvement as Objective Notetaker in the upcoming series of Fisheries Stakeholders Meetings will be positive and redeeming for myself and for my understanding of humanity (well heck, Obama's got in, there's some hope already!). This is the first time I will be holding a paid job for my writing skills, and this is the first time, Post-Question-Reality, I will have an opportunity to prove myself!

So, honestly, there are beautiful, colorful faces and stories behind a very scary, formalized document entitled Memorandum of Agreement, that upon signing, formalizes an agreement as my role of Noteaker for Fisheries Information Advisory Committee Meetings. This document only exists due to the need for formality from the Massive Jungle of Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy = people and paperwork. Bureaucracy is the problem. But bureaucracy can solve the problem. And so it goes.


Some notes. Can't sue if I die--err pass. "die" is a harsh word. Passing is more graceful and eloquent. I can't sue if they pass. Two-way street. Agreement can be terminated within 30 days written notice. Contract may terminate given whatever reasons. No alteration of the contract is possible unless there is a written, formalized agreement. California Fisheries Coalition (Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries), will retain all rights to the work that I generate for this Note-taker position. Cool. Exclusive rights to reproduce or copy the work, data, mult-media reports, etcetera. Contract not official until both parties signed. Agreement of duties on the third page. Okay! Ready for the ride. "Go fall off a log!" as my dad would say!


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