Sharmane Allen

Sharmane Allen is a doctoral candidate in the geography department at Memorial University. Under the supervision of Dr. Charles Mather and Dr. Dean Bavington, she is studying the implementation and practice of rights-based fisheries management (i.e. the allocation of licenses and quotas) in Newfoundland and Labrador’s commercial fisheries. Her long-standing interest in commercial fisheries and coastal communities stems from her upbringing in the south coast fishing community of Harbour Breton and her family connections to the industry. Before returning to Memorial University in 2013, she was an economic and policy analyst with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans for 13 years. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Dalhousie University and a Bachelor of Social Work degree and criminology certificate from Memorial University. Sharmane has received several academic awards including the doctoral fellowship from Memorial University’s Institute of Social and Economic Research in 2016; the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Scholarship 2013-2016; and Dalhousie University’s Guy Henson Gold Medal for academic achievement, social justice, personal integrity and professionalism in public administration in 2000. Sharmane and her spouse, Winston Fiander, currently live in St. Phillips overlooking ‘The Tickle’. When she is not studying, she enjoys spending time with Winston, her daughter, Shara and grandson, Jude, as well as cooking, boating, reading, and visiting her family in Harbour Breton.

How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?

In all honesty, I decided to attend Memorial University following a considerable amount of soul searching and discussion with my family. Returning to full-time studies meant impacting my family life and leaving a successful career and well-paying position with the federal public service. It also meant returning to academia in my 40s, which is a daunting prospect for a whole slew of reasons.
So, it wasn’t a decision I took lightly but one that I felt compelled to take to address long-standing questions I had about the implementation of rights-based fisheries management in Newfoundland and Labrador. In particular, I wanted to understand the property nature of fishing licences and quotas and sort through various contradictory practices that had developed over the years. Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee convinced me that the geography department at Memorial University would be an excellent place to pursue fisheries research because of its eclectic nature and expertise in natural resource research. She was right – it’s an inspiring place to study fisheries and I was grateful for her guidance.

What drew you to explore geography originally?

Incidentally, geography is not the academic discipline I was groomed in but since joining MUN’s geography department I can truthfully say it is a fascinating and valuable field of study. In addition to being a truly interdisciplinary scholarship, the sub-disciplines of geography present so many opportunities for students to learn about the world - broadly defined of course. For me, geography provided a way to look at the commercial fishery from many angles including economic, social, historical, cultural, physical, legal, etc., which is necessary if you want to have a comprehensive understanding of this industry. As a former policy analyst, I can attest to the importance of eclectic approaches to thought, research, and analysis. One-sidedness and bounded ideological approaches to fisheries management can really get us into trouble.

Can you tell us a bit about your current research?

My research critically examines the implementation of rights-based fisheries management (RBFM) in Newfoundland and Labrador since the 1970s with particular attention given to the practices associated with fishing licences and quotas. The concept of property rights is central to RBFM theory and its implementation, and the focus of my research. How property rights are defined, understood and performed in a commercial fishery can have far-reaching legal, economic, social, and cultural consequences. Yet, despite their relevance property rights are generally misunderstood, understudied, and underestimated in the context of the province’s fisheries. Using critical legal geography, I am conducting an in-depth analysis that will hopefully address this knowledge gap. Among other things, this has meant long and tedious hours reading though statues, regulations, and case law to understand what property rights mean in the context of Canada’s legal system generally, and the commercial fishery specifically. It has also entailed many hours of interviewing fish harvesters, public servants, lawyers, and others involved in the fishing industry to establish how property is understood and performed in everyday life. The data clearly shows that multiple and conflicting understandings of property rights exist which has contributed to uninformed decisions by government officials, fish harvesters, and others throughout the fishing industry.

A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What do your supervisors, Dr. Charles Mather and Dr. Dean Bavington, bring to their role as your advisor and mentor?

I am fortunate to have the co-supervision of geographers, Drs. Charles Mather and Dean Bavington. Both gentlemen have been invaluable in my PhD journey. Through our discussions, I have learned much about research and critical thought, and I have learned valuable teaching skills by observing them in class and in their interactions with students. In addition to sharing their knowledge, they have given me the freedom to explore and be creative. Both supported my decision to use legal geography and the complicated framework of ‘nomospheres and nomospheric investigations’ in my research even though it was new to them and me. I am also grateful that they have reigned me in from time to time, especially when I have crawled into academic rabbit holes and got lost in the maze. I am also thankful that they understood and respected my responsibilities and commitments to my family. Needless to say, their support, insights, and patience have been invaluable to me.

Have you attended any conferences/delivered any papers this year? Can you give details?

I haven’t attended any conferences or delivered any papers so far in 2017 or in 2016 while I was doing my fieldwork and data analysis. However, in previous years I attended and presented at several academic conferences and academic events including:

  • [December 2015] “For sale: one fishing enterprise including boat, gear, license and quota - Mapping Contested Understandings of What Counts as Property in Canada’s Commercial Fisheries” Contested Property Claims, Aarhus University, Aarhus, DK. (Presenter)
  • [October 2015] “Knowledge Institutions for Democracy in Canada in the 21st Century”, Royal Society of Canada’s Dialogue on Knowledge and Democracy Multi-Stakeholder Workshop, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL. (Presenter)
  • [June 2015] “Water Justice - The Implications of Tradable Property Rights for Sustainable Commercial Fisheries”, Atlantic Council for International Cooperation, St. John’s, NL. (Presenter and Panel Participant)
  • [November 2013] “Overview of Newfoundland and Labrador Commercial Fishery”, Division of Community Health & Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University, St. John’s NL. (Presenter)
  • [August 2013] “Co-managing Small-Scale Fisheries – A Promising but Missed Opportunity in Newfoundland and Labrador” Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, St. John’s, NL. (Presenter)
  • [June 2013] “Multiple and Shifting Images within Fishery Management Institutions – The Case of Canada”, People and the Sea VII - Maritime Futures, Centre for Maritime Research, Amsterdam, NL. (Presenter)

Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement?

When I returned to Memorial in 2013 I decided to get involved in campus life because I firmly believe that graduate school should be more than just studying. I learned the value of being involved during my bachelor and master degrees – it kept me grounded and in contact with real-life people plus you learn a considerable amount about the university you’re attending. So, while doing this PhD I have held several positions including the geography’s representative on the Humanities and Social Sciences Graduate Student Council; the Department of Geography faculty committee; and graduate student union. I was also co-facilitator of geography’s monthly PhD discussion forum. However, last fall I decided to step away from these positions to concentrate on writing my thesis. It was a necessary decision but I do admit I miss the human interaction.

What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?

First and foremost, I am very proud to be a student at a university that stands as a living memorial to the Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans who lost their lives in active service during the first and second world wars. I think about this every time I step on campus and I hold dearly my freedom and right as a woman to pursue an education in an inclusive and respectful setting. I feel very fortunate to have access to knowledgeable and accomplished scholars in fisheries research, as well as professional and resourceful administrative staff. Both have taken the time to help me sort through the myriad of academic and administrative questions that pop up from time to time. I also enjoy being a part of the geography department and appreciate the sense of belonging fostered among students, professors, and administrative staff through orientation events, weekly bluebox seminars, and acknowledgement of student and faculty achievements. Lastly, I think Memorial offers graduate students many opportunities to get involved whether it is on committees, attending social events, or participating in the many societies and clubs on campus. I think that having a sense of belonging in your department and getting involved in university life are essential elements to successfully completing graduate school.

What is the most challenging this about being a graduate student at Memorial?

Oh dear...this is likely not the most opportune time for me to answer this question since I am in the process of writing my thesis and there are moments when I absolutely despise this PhD. Yes, I acknowledge that despise is a strong word but I am told this is normal especially when you’re struggling to overcome writer’s block, loneliness, and second guessing every thought you ever had about your research. But I know I’ll get through this because I had the same periodic thoughts while going through those lovely comprehensive exams. I don’t sugarcoat graduate school when I’m asked about it by students, friends, and family. It is a challenging undertaking. For someone with an overactive mind like mine, it can be difficult to focus on a subject area for the extended amount of time it takes to do a PhD. Some days I can focus and be productive; others days I struggle because my mind is preoccupied with any number of things including family responsibilities, finances, employment opportunities, car troubles, training my puppy not to eat my work, etc. I think the key to navigating these challenges is to not let them fester but to share your feelings with someone you trust and seek their advice and support. In this regard, I am grateful to my family, friends, supervisors, and counselors at Memorial’s Student Wellness and Counselling Centre. I have learned that it is important to take good care of yourself during graduate school and to appreciate the smallest of accomplishments…like writing a single, solitary, yet brilliant sentence in one hour!!!

What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?

I am hoping to give my brain, body, and soul a much-deserved rest after I finish my PhD. So, shortly after I celebrate the successful defense of my thesis I am hoping to travel somewhere where it is sunny and warm for several consecutive days. Needless to say, I may have to leave the island to do this. In all seriousness though I am keeping my options open for post-docs, tenure-track positions, and possibly returning to the federal public service. Fingers crossed on all accounts.