Ethics, Interdisciplinarity, and the Institutional Review Board


Say your local Lions Club wants to hold a focus group to determine what the community thinks would be the best way to direct community service efforts? What if you, as a blog writer, want to survey your readership about their demographics? What if the local food group wants to stand in front of a grocery store surveying people where they get their food from? What if an independent scholar wants to interview people for their next book? These are all real-world applications of social science that may have significant positive impacts to the community involved. But are they responsible to anyone for ethical behavior? Should they be? If they were University scholars, they’d be subject Institutional Review Board oversight. No IRB approval means no publishing and no funding.

Even in the university setting, what if a scholar decides to cross disciplines and use some social science methods? Are they subject ot IRB review? Say fisheries biologists want to interview fishers about their knowledge of fish stocks and aggregations or an agricultural extension agent wants to survey local farmers where they get their seed? The what-if’s could go on forever. And they are all in the ethical grey area.

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Potential in Small-Scale Kombu Fishing in Samani Town, Hokkaido, Japan

As part of the GCOE-INeT Summer School at Hokkaido University this year I have had the opportunity to use Samani Town as a case study of “the sustainability of coupled human and natural systems”. The small coastal town of roughly 5,500 people is dependent on farming, fishing, forestry, mining, and increasingly tourism. Samani town is one of the oldest towns in Hokkaido Island and kelp fishing just offshore traces its roots back to the Ainu people who first populated the area. While other industries are important to life and economy in Samani, fishing deserves special note both because of the history and the successful local management.

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Aquaculture in NC: Millpoint Aquaculture

Jimmy Morris is the only hatchery in North Carolina, serving aquaculture operations all along the East Coast and the state’s oyster restoration program. The process would he easy, he says, except that crops of larvae die periodically – for a variety of unknown reasons. Figuring out how to cater to the sensitivities of these shelly babies is a skill few-and-far between in the world of aquaculture and that makes his operation one of the most important businesses in both the region and the industry.

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Happy World Oceans Day!

Today, June 8th, is World Oceans Day! Get out there and let the world know how much the ocean just makes you want to dance in celebration! The Smithsonian set a fairly high bar last year with its dancing flash mob in the Sant Ocean Hall. For the less rhythmically inclined, check out what events are happening by you.

This year also marks the advent of a whole month of ocean love with Obama’s proclamation of National Oceans Month. He opens his proclamation with:

“Our oceans help feed our Nation, fuel our economic engine, give mobility to our Armed Forces, and provide a place for rest and recreation. Healthy oceans, coasts, and waterways are among our most valuable resources — driving growth, creating jobs, and supporting businesses across America. During National Oceans Month, we reaffirm our commitment to the oceans and celebrate the myriad benefits they bring to all Americans.”

Obama also reminds us of our maritime heritage:

“President John F. Kennedy once told us, “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.” During National Oceans Month, let us celebrate our heritage as a seafaring Nation by instilling an ethic of good ocean stewardship in all Americans.”

So find your spirit of nationalism, heritage, nature’s romanticism, or whatever inspires you most about the rolling sea – go forth and celebrate and bring the spirit of stewardship to others!

Chemistry of the Great Big Blue: A Pesticide Mystery

As part of my ongoing community-based research on water quality in coastal North Carolina, I ended up tasked with answering what I thought would be  a very basic question: what is the predominant pesticide used in my county? The largest farm and by far the largest amount of cropland is occupied by a traditional corn/soy rotation with the occasional cotton thrown in. Given the multitude of American acres donated to corn/soy, I figured I could easily find out the basics of that crop’s chemistry. Not so. My little information adventure has made me realize why there are so many rumors surrounding farming’s impact on water quality in the region. Rumors are easier to find than facts.

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Aquaculture in NC: Carolina Mariculture Co.

Jay onto his boat, photo by author

Though oyster mariculture isn’t new to places like the Chesapeake Bay, Jay Styron’s Carolina Mariculture Company, based in Cedar Island, NC, is a shining vision of the future in North Carolina. Much of the state’s efforts in aquaculture are directed at tilapia, catfish, and hybrid striped bass, which are grown in ponds on traditional farm land. These are often grown as a means of diversifying an existing farm economy. Mariculture, though, blends this type of aquaculture with commercial fishing to grow seafood in estuaries and inshore regions, creating a saltier crop. In many ways mariculture should be embraced by both farming and fishing communities but is often instead viewed as the strange uncle of the food production family. Enter pioneer Jay Styron, who grows oysters not only for food but also demonstration purposes – and he proudly creates delicious oysters.

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Aquaculture in NC: Providing for the rich or the masses?

What do you think of when you picture  a fish dinner? A fancy anniversary meal atop a seaside bluff at sunset? Or a staple food, eaten daily as part of the subsistence diet of coastal community members? Seafood is a strange commodity because depending on how you answered that question, you’re right. Seafood occupies multiple rungs of the economic ladder. But the most common consumer is the middle-class, which is shrinking in the US but growing worldwide. So what does a changing seafood consumer base mean for which types of seafood we should increase through aquaculture? Here’s a few thoughts from the keynote speaker at the NC Aquaculture Development Conference, Travis Larkin from Seafood Exchange. Read More

Aquaculture in NC: Urban Aquaculture

Not everyone who wants to start an aquaculture farm has the privilege of picking up their family, leaving their job, and moving to a rural area. Note I didn’t say small town – many of the same rules apply to small towns as large cities. I mean at least a few miles from Main St. Not to mention, there’s lots of vacant lots right now in the sluggish real estate market that could be put to good use. That’s exactly what Rob Ellis decided when he opened Astor Farms in Charlotte, his hometown. He grows tilapia in an abandoned DHL warehouse near the Charlotte airport. And he shared his story at the NC Aquaculture Development Conference last week in New Bern, NC.

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Aquaculture in NC: The Global Connection

“We just sold a much bigger one to Denmark, but couldn’t be this style”, said the trade show representative as if he had traveled to the town next door. Aquaculture has its roots in northern Europe in many ways, mainly through connections to the beginnings of domesticating Atlantic salmon. So many American companies are making good money selling their technology and feed to customers around the world that have already made the step into large-scale aquacultural production.

A few countries in particular made their influence known several times: Denmark, Chile, and Canada. Though these have prominent roles in the global capture fisheries as well, their particular geology gave them a head start on salmon that is expanding over into other types of aquaculture.

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Aquaculture in NC: Designed Ecosystems

Lest you think aquaculture is like your childhood fish tank on a larger scale, let me remind you of the plecostomus in that tank. You know, the thing that sat stuck to the back of the tank behind the plant so that the family could never quite find it. Yet somehow, despite the fact that you could swear it never moved and could have been a stone decoration rather than an organism, this little helper kept every surface of that tank sparkly clean. Algae-free glass, gravel, and plants. But what if you have large, outdoor ponds and each mouth to feed costs you money if it doesn’t eventually end up as dinner?

This is exactly when you have to stop thinking of these operations as just a tank of fish. They are nestled in the surrounding ecosystem, full of naturally occuring algae – some good and some bad. For eastern North Carolina, both the wind and the tide might carry in some future algae blooms to your tanks, which are well-stocked with nutrient-rich fish poop to feed it. Instead, as NC Aquaculture Conference speaker DE Brune puts it, you have to think of your tanks and ponds as “designed ecosystems”.

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