Following Fish

Scots 'fisher girls', who followed the fish, cleaning and gutting herring on Yarmouth quay
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To establish an interactive IT network to support education for sustainability, which links communities with a common sea fisheries community heritage

  • to further the use of information technology for individualised learning in schools and communities,
  • to encourage the local gathering and national exchange of information between communities about their past in relation to current plans for economic development,
  • to provide an easily accessible, updatable, national educational resource about our use of the marine environment for cross-curricular work on the theme of 'cultural ecology'

The project was initiated in 1992 as a collaborative effort between:
  • Milford Haven High School, Milford Haven
  • Kirkley High School, Lowestoft;
  • Havelock High School, Grimsby;
  • the Fisheries Research Laboratories at Lowestoft;
  • Yarmouth Planning Department;
  • the Schools and Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN) National Museum of Wales Cardiff.
  • It was sponsored by the Grimsby Evening Telegraph and the Lowestoft Journal who made their local newspaper archive available for transcription.
  • The work was given a strong boost by David Butcher (head of English at Kirkley) making available the text of his books to start an IT library about the fishing industry based on his collection of local oral reminiscences.

The work in the 1990s showed that it was important to provide a comprehensive cross-curricular topic framework upon which to 'hang' electronic resources in the form of books, pictures, numerical data, and newspaper cuttings. It was also important to provide exemplars of projects carried out by schools which turned the information into knowledge linking the past with the present and future development of the communities. In particular, many of the traditional fishing communities have, or going to face the problems of 'life after fish'. In this respect, it is important to provide a forum in which young people could exchange ideas and feelings about the future in the context of sustainable development.
The work began in the 1990s at the frontiers of IT in schools. Since then many of the problems of formatting and communication that were initially encountered have been overcome, particularly with the development of the Internet. 'Following Fish' is a consolidation of experience of teachers with html and pdf interactivity and portability and is made available to stimulate schools to take up 'fishing' as a model of biodiversity in the service of culture. In this sense it is an interactive database to support local work in the global perspective of Agenda 21 to encourage people to assemble a personal body of knowledge about their past to generate a sense of place . The project is already generating local conceptualised learning frames. At this level other kinds of indexing systems allow access to information across the geographical descriptors.

Hardware and software is available for teachers and pupils to assemble this kind of knowledge navigation system. Simple tool kits allow the manipulation of standard interoperable picture, text and number files. The very act of creating an electronic navigation system is a learning experience in its own right. It also meets several national curriculum IT objectives. School websites are the obvious way to present the outcomes but with the advent of the ‘Wiki’ this communal database seems the ideal way to take the project into the 21st century.

Cultural perspective

" When you were herrin' catchin' you looked for the colour o' the water. Some o' these ol' skippers even reckoned they could taste 'em in the air, but I aren't goin' as far as that. I don't think they could. But the water'd often be milky and oily, and that meant herrin'. People used t'have the judgement of water. (Ned Mullender* of Pakefield b.1896; Lowestoft herring fleet skipper)

At the turn of the century French community geographers defined the concept of 'the ecomene' as the socioeconomic focus of local natural resource utilisation. An ecomene is a unique combination of people, topography, ideas, skills and capital for the sustained exploitation of local biological resources. An example of an ecomene is a maritime community bonded to its environment through the fish stocks it is able to bring within reach of its families. They achieved this by developing appropriate boat building crafts and harvesting strategies. An essential feature of the ecomene as originally defined was its geographical isolation and its stability. These are two fundamental aspects of the annual harvest expected from an ecosystem that sustains itself in a dynamic balance based on cycles and fluctuations in natural populations.

Ecomenes use natural resources based on an ecological intuition of non linear biological processes, aptly expressed by the fisherman Ned Mullender as 'judgement of water'. Stability of the ecosystem and the ecomene is undermined by linear enterprises associated with indefinite economic and technological growth. Such enterprises may be described as anti-ecological.

It is the clear message of environmentalists that anti-ecological thinking has modified our environment to such an extent that we have lost touch with our biological and ecological heritage more than any other culture and any other civilisation in the past.

The fate of European marine fisheries are all case histories of what happens when nature becomes viewed as a mechanical extension of industrialism, and, when, repeatedly, ecological lessons are not being learned.

'Following Fish' is began as a national project to stimulate ecological awareness in children of maritime ecomenes whose grandparents were sustained by the belief that fish would always be there for the catching. Modern information technology gives them the power of not only collecting and organising information about their heritage, but also provides powerful tools for predicting the outcome of interactions between cyclic and linear dynamic behaviour. Finally, computers offer schools an unparalleled means of communicating the results of their local deliberations to children everywhere.

Present state of project development
The main topics have been arranged as a mind map of summary texts. These will be extended with more detail as the project proceeds. The library texts are being assembled as downloads. The information is being gathered in a cross curricular framework entitled 'Lessons from the Sea'. The project is coordinated by the Going Green Directorate.
  • Reminiscence of a Lowestoft fisherman transcribed by David Butcher (In 'The Driftermen'; Tops'l Books 1979

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