The faces behind the fishery: bringing their stories to you

Elizabeth, IPNLF Communications Coordinator, steps out from behind the computer at IPNLF headquarters in London to meet other like-minded communicators and swap ideas for story-telling.
Elizabeth Huxley-Jones, former Communications Coordinator

Stories are crucial to the human experience. Stories are how we pass on historical knowledge, teach morals, share experiences and learn. They can help us understand points of view that are not our own, give insight into lives that we have not lived, they are narratives that help us understand our world. They are maybe the most important communications tool we have.

At IPNLF, we recognise that while at one "end of the line" there is a fish, at the other is a fisher. A person with a full life - with wants, wishes, needs and desires - beyond the ecosystem itself. Part of my role at IPNLF is to share their stories to people beyond the fisheries – illuminating what life is like directly relying on a natural resource - while remembering that environmental effects don't exist in a vacuum and have serious repercussions for industries, for local communities, for other people.

Coming from a marine science background, I'm very used to telling the story of our seas from a purely ecological angle. Interacting with scientists and communicating the value of the oceans and their inhabitants on their eco-centric values alone is my comfort zone, and I'm all for stepping outside of that.

An aim I set myself when attending the International Marine Conservation Congress in Glasgow in 2014 was to learn more about conservation marketing, and how we charities and communicators can get our messages to the right people, in a world where we are all continuously bombarded with information.

Recognising areas to build on at IPNLF’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) meeting in Kuala Lumpur last November, I made a resolution to investigate how charities from other sectors communicate their own stories. Thus the Social Media Exchange, a conference for communications professionals working in the non-profit sector to come together and share story-telling skills, orchestrated by the charming Jude Habib from Sound Delivery, was a great opportunity to explore such work.

Indonesian one-by-one fishers celebrate their catch. © Paul Hilton & IPNLF

From the beginning I knew it was going to be an exciting and thought provoking day when Jude introduced a singer, who called myself and a few others up on stage to act as backing singers while we all indulged in an early morning rendition of Pharrell Williams’ hit song ‘Happy’. It certainly got everyone's vocal chords warmed up for a day of conversation!

The event was split into a number of workshops, with a few key talks dotted throughout these. Choosing which workshops to attend was difficult, and in the end my timetable looked pretty unreadable from my scrawls of which to attend next.

A session that really got me thinking about how we talk about pole-and-line fishing was with Alan Dein, of BBC4's radio show Living Landscapes. As an audio-only program about people's lives, Alan and his team have to build up a mental picture of someone's experiences and environment through a plethora of sounds. IPNLF is very blessed to have some wonderful imagery of our fisheries, showing how the fish fly through the air in a shimmer of crystal blue sea-drops. But how do you explain pole-and-line fishing without the pictures? I sat back and closed my eyes, thinking of the videos that Kelsey Miller, our fisheries researcher, had recently sent us from the Maldives. The sound of waves lapping... the hum of the boat engines... the fishers calling to each other, laughing and joking... the splashes as the tuna reach their feeding frenzy. This exercise got my brain whirring with new ideas, which I hope to put into practice in the coming year!

Moving to the opposite end of storytelling media, I explored the 10 key values of YouTube as a visual communications platform. Thanks to our widening network of staff and members, our image library is growing. But how to use it effectively? As a charity who are very people focussed, I want our supporters -- you!-- to see the work that is being done. I want you to feel a connection to the people behind the logo. Expect to see more videos, more use of our YouTube channel, and perhaps even the occasional video log from our staff sharing insights from key events and projects.

Alongside these new ideas, you'll also notice an updated version of our website in the coming months, as part of our commitment to bring the stories of IPNLF to you. In particular the website will be much more user friendly for viewing on mobile devices. We’ll also be looking to further grow our social media presence. Over the last year, our Facebook audience has quadrupled to over 450 people spread throughout the countries we work with (i.e. the UK, USA, Maldives, Indonesia, Australia) and from others such as Italy, India, the Philippines, Ethiopia and United Arab Emirates! Our Twitter account has almost reached 600 followers, tripling our audience in the last year. Our messages are spreading around the world, thanks to the power of social media.

My hope is that through these different channels, we can bring everyone closer to the people in our pole-and-line community. Using these different communications channels, we can tell and sell the full story of pole-and-line fisheries, their communities and the lives of the fishers themselves. We are embarking on an exciting multimedia approach to bring you the sights and sounds of pole-and-line fisheries, storytelling for the internet age.  Stay tuna’d.

We’re keen to work with our members and other organisations to spread our storytelling – please do get in contact if you want to join us in telling the story of pole-and-line.