Institute for Regional Development PhD Candidate Emma Lee has swapped selling fuel at her local service station for study, a move which now sees her sampling seafood in Spain.

She’s currently in Basque Country, observing traditional fishing practices and learning how locals there are keeping their catch to drive taste tourism. 

People will travel outlandish distances for a touristic experience that is genuine, meaningful, reciprocal and fulfilling. In Basque Country, the connection between fisheries and food tourism is only the distance between the communities of origin and the end product.

“I’m hoping my research in Spain will lead to a similar sustainable experience being established back home, pairing the traditional fishing practices of my people, the Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples, with our state’s world-class seafood to introduce indigenous food tourism."

In 2015, Emma became the first Tasmanian Aboriginal recipient of the Indigenous Fellowship, part of the internationally competitive Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships program, which provided her with this year’s overseas opportunity. 

The Institute for Regional Development has nurtured a structured pathway to furthering my research beyond the PhD. Its global outreach has brought the world to me and now through the Endeavour Award I am experiencing a little of it myself.

Women mend the fishing nets at Getaria wharf as men tend their fishing boats.

Emma’s project findings will feature in her PhD, Establishing Joint Management Processes and Models in Tasmania, which focuses on policy analysis, history and indigenous rights.

“What my Basque Country research has shown is that joint management of protected area resources can be sustainable and ethical when the policy and industrial conditions allow for rights-based, multiple economies to flourish in strongly rooted cultural traditions.”

Emma’s journey to higher education has been something of a journey in itself.

I worked at Woolworths Petrol in Wynyard for two years before I secured a scholarship to begin my PhD at the Cradle Coast campus. That job allowed me see the fabric of a community and really think about how I could create something in my PhD that paid tribute to so many hard-working Tasmanians.

Emma has also worked as an archaeologist, authored the book Tale of a Whale, and continues to dabble as a keen opinion-piece writer for Tasmanian newspapers.  

For now though, she has immersed herself in all the academia Spain’s northern Basque region has to offer.

“I’ve spent time in the township of Oñati at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law. Now I’m now based in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve studying at AZTI Tecnalia, the premier Western Europe fisheries research institute.

Here, I’ve been exposed to the most intelligent and strategic fishery and food tourism minds from Spain and beyond, expanding my horizons and assisting me in fine-tuning my research strategy to create Indigenous fisheries and food tourism opportunities in Tasmania which are low on conflict and big on regional development benefits.

Emma is hoping to submit her PhD thesis in March 2017.

This story features in the University's latest Open To Talent magazine. See the whole issue online here.