Organizational change management in fisheries: Critical evaluation and potential to facilitate the sustainable development of the New England groundfish industry

Stephen James Eayrs, University of New Hampshire, Durham


This dissertation attempts to evaluate the appetite and attitudes of fishermen to change, including The Paradox of Fishermen, which is the reluctance by fishermen to change while consistently responding to day-to-day change in their working environment. It also attempts to evaluate the performance of three industry groups in facilitating change on behalf of member fishermen, and to develop a comprehensive organizational change management model to facilitate change in the New England groundfish fishery.

The three industry groups were the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association in Maine, USA, the Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance in Massachusetts, USA, and a group of fishermen from Queensland, Australia involved in an Environmental Management System. Fishermen from each group were invited to complete a questionnaire comprising multiple open- and closed-ended questions. In addition, members of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Fishing Technology and Fish Behavior Working Group (WGFTFB) were invited to complete a similar questionnaire regarding their perceptions of fishermen’s appetite and attitude to change.

A total of 54 fishermen responded to the questionnaire, representing at least one-third of fishermen involved in each industry group, and 47 responses were received from the WGFTFB. Loss of control, mistrust, and lack of reward, were the reasons fishermen primarily gave for their reluctance to change, while WGFTFB members primarily thought fishermen were reluctant to change because of concerns over cost and lack of incentives. Support for The Paradox of Fishermen was found, but also evidence that the paradox may be a perception based on not fully understanding the attitudes of fishermen.

The performance of each industry group was evaluated through the lens of the Kotter model of organizational change. Fishermen were typically found to have joined each industry group following recognition of an urgent need to change, although there was disagreement regarding the type of change and remedial action. Fishermen provided evidence that each industry group does not adequately communicate its vision statement or provide adequate support to guide behavior consistent with the vision. No evidence was found that any group facilitated change using a formal change management model, although there was piecemeal evidence that some change management theory and principles had been applied.

A new, comprehensive organizational change model for application in the New England groundfish fishery was developed. This model provides a clear and holistic approach to help change agents institute change in the commercial fishing industry, be they fishermen, researchers, managers, or other stakeholders. The model is also sufficiently adaptable to facilitate enhanced ecological, economic, and social outcomes from fishing activity, and is therefore an ideal platform upon which to launch future change initiatives in the commercial fishing industry.