Jacques Weber – A Remembrance and Tribute from IIFET

We lost our friend and colleague Jacques Weber March 6th, 2014, to a brief pulmonary infection after a longer illness. Upon announcing his passing, we received a number of heartfelt responses, which are included below, lightly edited. The variety of places these comments came from is some indication of the breadth of Jacques’s influence. These will be forwarded to Michelle, Jacques’s wife, who can be reached at [email protected], if you want to send personal condolences.

From Pavel Salz and Massimo Spagnolo (the Netherlands and Italy):

We were extremely sorry and saddened to hear that our friend and colleague Jacques Weber passed away. Throughout his professional career his influence went far beyond the specific posts which he held. Jacques was a visionary who inspired others to look beyond today or tomorrow.

Jacques was the driving force behind the establishment of EAFE in 1988 during the IIFET conference in Esbjerg and during the first EAFE conference in 1989 in Brussels. He acted as the first EAFE president, but soon he preferred to pass on fulfilling official tasks to others. He was the wise man in the background, not needing the spotlight of ‘important positions’. Jacques was among the first fisheries economists who realized that establishment of the Common Fisheries Policy in 1983 called also for a Europe-wide cooperation of economists.

Jacques was an unconventional thinker ahead of his time. While setting-up and heading the economics unit at IFREMER he was convinced of the need for truly multi-disciplinary research, more than 25 years ago. He believed that open cooperation between biologists, economists and other scientists would expand our knowledge and contribute to better fisheries management.

Jacques believed in strong, independent science, not driven by political needs of the day. In his view studies initiated by the ‘policy makers’ asked the ‘wrong questions’ and generated ‘irrelevant answers’, an expression engraved in our memory.

Jacques was the man to take initiatives and move on, leaving the implementation to others whom he believed could do a better job at it.

Jacques was intrigued and driven by his curiosity to understand how human society interacts with its natural environment. Although he was not directly involved in fisheries science for many years, he appeared at some of our meetings as the ‘grand-old man’.

Jacques was an extraordinary colleague and a charismatic friend. We had the pleasure of knowing and working with him. Saying that his heritage will live on is certainly true, but the cliché would probably make him frown, even now.

From Martine Antona (France):

Martine, along with several colleagues, wrote a commemorative book about Jacques entitled “Rendre Possible”, (To Make Possible) published last year. Introducing the book, the authors say: Provocateur, visionary, teacher; this was Jacques Weber, who was able to tie together numerous disciplines and, through his work on the human uses of nature and the management of renewable resources and biodiversity, traced innovative pathways addressing the big questions of the twenty first century. (Editor’s note: approximate translation done by Ann Shriver.)

The book is available in book or downloadable PDF format from: http://www.quae.com/fr/r3020-rendrepossible.html

From Olivier Thebaud (France):

Yes, it is very sad news. Jacques was the founder and first director of the economics team in Ifremer. He opened the doors of the marine research to me in 1992, and was a strong influence on my career from the early days of PhD research ... and had a similar influence on many people here.

From Pierry-Yves Hardy (France):

Jacques Weber was my PhD defense president a few months ago. Through our interaction I discovered the best aspects of this honest person who told me the most useful things a fresh graduate could ever read. He still had the energy to tell me that we had need to talk to each other to initiate new directions for small scale fishery development. I didn't have the chance to speak with him about concrete innovative science around a very nice bottle of the red wine he liked so much, but I will definitely carry with me his heritage of linking anthropology and economics. I will miss his frankness.

From Tony Charles (Past President, IIFET, Canada):

I had the honour to serve as President of IIFET at the time of our 2010 conference in Montpellier, France. I am so pleased that the conference provided an opportunity for those attending to hear a plenary presentation by my friend Jacques Weber. You can still see the slides of the presentation at http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ IIFET/Weber.pdf. Of course, those slides don’t do justice to the style with which Jacques made a presentation, but they do give a hint at the breadth of his thinking – like the slide titled “Management tools and cultural framing”. There are not all that many people around who can talk equally well about fisheries management tools, and about ‘cultural framing’. In my comments at the 2010 conference, I noted that twenty years previously, I had also been in Montpellier, that time for a conference titled “Research and Small-Scale Fisheries”. It was an eclectic meeting organized by an eclectic thinker, Jacques Weber. That conference opened my eyes to new ways of understanding fisheries, and marked the first of a series of meetings I had with Jacques over the years – all intellectually stimulating, and all invariably enjoyable. What a wonderful human.

From Serge Garcia (FAO):

I met Jacques Weber for the first time in 1977, in Senegal, when ORSTOM (now IRD) sent him in, at my request, to help us develop a socioeconomic approach to small-scale fisheries. The idea was judged "strange" by my hierarchy but thrilled Jacques. I took him to the beaches to show him what we, the biologists, had understood of the stocks. After 2 hours in Kayar, walking on the beach, he said, to my surprise, that the sector was probably developing very rapidly, recruiting a lot, and making substantial benefits, probably higher than in agriculture. As I asked for the basis for that rapid appraisal with no data he said: Serge, look at the wives (waiting for the husband's return). They are young, pretty, well dressed, and they wear gold. Hence the sector is attracting a lot of young people in that are making a lot of money, which is unusual in fisheries. As a young biologist, I had not seen that evidence. Unfortunately, 40 years later, this Senegalese "anomaly" is over. I learned a lot from Jacques on the meta rules governing fisheries during my numerous but short interactions with him and he is probably responsible for my patience with economists, no matter what. I lost a very good old friend and a well of wisdom.

From Mary Gasalla (Brazil):

This is such sad news. Jacques was a wonderful human being which made him a dear colleague and an inspiring professional. He was extremely receptive with the Brazilian delegation at IIFET-Montpellier--a group of young people. He discussed so many subjects with us, showing an extremely wide cultural background that included Brazilian regional literature! He seemed to love Brazil and encouraged us to speak in Portuguese with him. It was an amazing experience to share those days discussing with him so many subjects of the fisheries world. I believe that my student and colleagues share these same feelings, and regret that we won't receive his visit in our country, just inspirations.

From Meryl Williams (Australia/Malaysia):

This is indeed sad news. I think I only met Jacques once and that meeting had a tremendous impact on my education and thinking.

We were seated next to each other during a dinner in Paris in (from memory) 2004. By telling a few highly memorable stories, which I have recounted many times, he alerted me to the importance and power of social sciences and introduced me to the work of Raymond and Rosemary Firth in Malaysian fisheries.

From Carmen Pedroza (Mexico):

That is very sad news indeed, especially for me because Jacques Weber was one of my best and favourite professors during my PhD studies in Paris. That is why he was the first to congratulate me in the IIFET 2010 conference in Montpelier, when I received the Honorable Mention from JIFRS. Thank you for keeping us informed and he will definitely be in my prayers.

From Philip Rodgers (UK):

At the IIFET Conference in Esbjerg in 1988, Jacques Weber called together the delegates from the European Community countries to seek their approval for his idea of forming an association of fishery economists capable of offering advice to the European Commission.

Some months earlier, he had called to see Neil McKellar and myself in Edinburgh to canvass support. He came into my room behind his fierce moustache and immediately apologised for his English being “a little Pidgin”, the consequence, he said of growing up in Cameroon. I had no trouble with his English but it was a first example of a characteristic self-deprecating humour. After Esbjerg, he asked me to draw up a set of rules, which he refined, and in April 1989, the Inaugural Meeting of the European Association of Fisheries Economists (EAFE) took place in Brussels. He had gained the support of the European Commission, which he persuaded to provide a meeting room, complete translation facilities and an initial project to provide funding.

He had a typically French love of philosophy, once pointing out to me that European objections to ITQs were founded on the recognition that they reside in a particular view of the world. On one occasion he saw an unremarkable vase for sale in an antiques shop and decided to purchase it, so long as he could also have the book being used as a display stand for it. The shop owner agreed and for a few francs he had acquired one of his proudest possessions, a first edition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Le Contrat Social.

Personnel and personality changes, not to mention competition for a shrinking pot of funding, have meant that his desire for EAFE to become an established part of the management system within the Common Fisheries Policy has yet to be realised. I hesitate to attribute views to him as people can change their views during a lifetime but Jacques described himself as a socio-economist. By this I think he meant that he saw himself and other economists as arbiters acting for society as a whole, between the fishing industry and the marine scientists. This is a vision which suggests that Jacques’ day is yet to come.

From Ann Shriver (USA):

Jacques was one of my favorite characters in a cast of thousands I’ve come to know through my work with IIFET—one who, for me, embodied many of the positive character traits I’ve come to regard as classically “French”, and a strong booster of the French approach to life, language and culture. He was thoughtful, passionately opinionated, amusing, and happy to share thoughts on any topic one might raise, from resource management to how to choose the best chicken at the farmers’ market. Jacques always encouraged me (and everyone else) to improve my grasp of his beloved French language, once saying to me (with a mischievous twinkle in his eye and in slow and careful French, to be sure I’d understand) “But Ann, your French is so good, we can’t even guess what State you’re from!”