Ana Pitchon: Working Toward a Sea Change in Fishing Industry, Conservationism

Ana Pitchon (center) presented research on the designation of Marine Protected Areas with psychology student John Bunce at the CSU Office of the Chancellor. Pictured with CSU Dominguez Hills President Mildred García

Dr. Ana Pitchon (center) made a presentation on Marine Protected Areas with psychology student John Bunce at the CSU Office of the Chancellor. Pictured with CSU Dominguez Hills President Mildred García

Ana Pitchon, assistant professor of anthropology, presented a poster on the practice of forming stakeholder groups when designating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) during a session on the California State University’s Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology (COAST) at the CSU Office of the Chancellor in Long Beach. Presentations from 20 of the CSU’s 23 campuses were shown during an annual meeting of CSU presidents on Jan. 25.  Pitchon created “Competing ideologies, policy, and marine protected areas” with psychology major John Bunce. Their collaboration was the only student-mentor team that applied the social sciences to the study of the ocean at the event.

Pitchon says that MPAs are constructed and implemented by a variety of interests, including state and federal regulatory agencies, conservationists, fishermen, and academics. She says that while each group brings valuable information to the table, the system is flawed due to the cultural dynamics of each subgroup of stakeholders.

“Given John’s interest in psychology, we’ve been talking about some of the more psychological and personal aspects of the MPA process,” says Pitchon. “In California right now, we’re going through an implementation process of [designating] marine protected areas along the entire state. Task forces are established among stakeholders in order to figure out where [MPAs] should be that would not be too disruptive for any one group.”

Pitchon says that she and Bunce used social identity theory to draw their conclusion that despite the strong social and professional identities of the individual groups of stakeholders, the members of these groups have to be able to transcend their own beliefs in order to achieve common ground.

“When people are put into groups, they immediately adhere to the standards of that group and form solidarity around the [collective] characteristics or ideology,” says Pitchon. “Our conclusion is for a process like this to be more streamlined and functional, there has to be an underlying thread that can somehow break people [free] of their group ideology and form more cohesive units that are able to work together and transcend ideologically contrived boundaries.”

Bunce, who minors in anthropology, says that their study is part of California’s first wave of examining the MPA designation process and is hopeful that their findings will help guide decision making in the future.

“The strength of MPA development seems to be this stakeholder idea, that also seems to be a potential weakness with the intergroup conflict that it seems to foster,” says Bunce. “The stakeholder group offers a great deal of information to people at the top, but ultimately breaks down the ability of those stakeholders to come back and form consensus. Their social identities create a conflict. There may be a need to allow the stakeholder groups to go into a fact-finding stage then find some way to… bring the groups back together outside of it. The key is to find some way to create intergroup dialogue that breaks down those boundaries.”

Pitchon has had extensive experience in studying the effects of man-made solutions to depletion of native species due to overfishing. She will be speaking on “Sea Hunters or Sea Farmers? Transitions in Modern Fisheries” at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach on Feb. 23. Her talk is based on her research of a coastal community in Chiloé Island, Chile, that had lost its centuries-old artisanal fishing industry. Pitchon found that the introduction of salmon farms to the region resulted in adverse effects upon the community.

“Wild capture fisheries are in decline and artisanal small-scale fishermen are losing their ability to make a living off of this craft,” she says. “Their grandfathers did it, their great-grandfathers did it. More than just making a living, it was a way of life. Near-shore species are disappearing due to overfishing, pollution from the salmon farms, and the price of farmed species.”

While visiting Chiloé from 2005 to 2006, Pitchon looked at the community’s transition from wild capture fisheries to salmon farming. Using methods that were unprecedented in this type of research, she measured indicators such as quality of life and/or perceived well-being, job satisfaction, and environmental values in order to determine the island’s resiliency to the changes. She says that while the global phenomenon of aquaculture is often seen by governments as a way to rescue failing wild-capture fisheries, her study proved that the stability of both this coastal population and its ecosystem were at risk.

“The social networks started to disintegrate,” Pitchon notes. “People became much more dependent on external institutions for wage labor, whereas before, people had a tradition of reciprocity because life on the island is so difficult. Before the farms were there, people would trade seafood for firewood. Their quality of life and perceived well-being plummeted because they weren’t using any of their skills. They were working with fish, but they didn’t have any connection to [salmon] because it’s non-native to this environment.”

Along with the cultural losses of Chiloé’s fishing community, the conditions of aquaculture and the introduction of salmon, a non-native species, wreaked their ecological effects on the community.

“We talk about invasive species like kudzu in the South and the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes,” Pitchon says. “We know now that introducing a species to solve an ecological problem is typically a bad idea. A new species will often adapt and colonize which will create changes.”

Pitchon cites influences from the food web to diseases that are unique to farmed salmon as responsible for long-term damage to Chiloé’s ecosystem – and to consumers of the fish being raised. She says that the escape of the carnivorous salmon from their pens, whether orchestrated by curious sea lions or the fish themselves, resulted in new salmon colonies that competed with native species for resources. In addition, the use of antibiotics to treat diseases resulted in the build-up of chemicals in the ocean and the loss of a food source for humans.

“The pens are in environments where they say the current is going to take care of chemicals and wash them away, but the truth is that a significant amount of food, antibiotics, and detritus falls to the sea floor,” Pitchon says. “Sometimes it creates hypoxic zones underneath the salmon pens. Contamination from the pens and from salmon processing plants that wash out their waste enters the near-shore environment where families are dependent on the fish that thrive in these areas. These fish are starting to disappear because of all the contamination.”

Pitchon’s research in Chiloé which has just been accepted for publication in Human Organization, the journal of the Society for Applied Anthropology.  She has begun work on a similar project analyzing concepts of resilience and near-shore coastal resource use in Puerto Rico, funded by a Sea Grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She will be examining the ways that near-shore resources can be used in times of economic stress as a subsistence bailout.

Pitchon has also recently received a grant to work with the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission on “Bridging the Market Gap: Educating Fishermen and the Public for Sustainable Seafood and Communities.” The project addresses the concern in Southern California of sustainable seafood production,  and aims to educate the extended fishing community through an outreach initiative that works to enhance local seafood products for use in local markets, which will also have an impact on catch reduction and increased economic value for community sustainability.

In 2004, Pitchon was awarded a Fulbright Comprehensive Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Scholarship for her dissertation research in Chiloé, Chile. She is a member of the Board of Governors for the Ocean Studies Institute of Southern California, the CSU Dominguez Hills representative to the CSU’s COAST, a member of the Marine Resources Advisory Team for the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, and a member of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. She is a founding member of the Society for Anthropological Sciences, and an active member of the Society for Applied Anthropology, the International Association for the Study of the Commons, and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

Pitchon says that as evidenced in her research throughout the United States and South America, when looking at natural food sources such as seafood, “It is all connected. Being an anthropologist, my particular interest is in the people and the communities and their dependence on these resources and how can they stay afloat.”

For more information on anthropology at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.


  1. Laura Talamante says:

    Ana you are doing important work and playing an impressive role in leadership! It is wonderful to see the interdisciplinary work that you are doing with our students. What an insightful study – on so many levels.

  2. Jerry Moore says:

    Congratulations, Ana, on your insightful and significant research.
    Jerry Moore

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