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Social networks and fishers’ behavior: exploring the links between information flow and fishing success in the Northumberland lobster fishery

Rachel A. Turner, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies, University of the West Indies
Nicholas V. C. Polunin, School of Marine Science and Technology, Newcastle University, UK
Selina M. Stead, School of Marine Science and Technology, Newcastle University, UK


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Fisheries worldwide are facing overexploitation, yet the social dimensions of fishers’ behavior remain under-studied, and there is demand for an improved understanding of social processes that influence fisheries’ dynamics. Fishers draw on social relationships to acquire information relating to fishing opportunities, contributing to knowledge that underpins decision making and behavior. In this study we use quantitative social network analysis (SNA) to compare the structure of information-sharing networks and explore links between information flow and fishing success at four ports in the Northumberland (UK) potting fishery. In our results we describe the different information-sharing networks existing at each port, and show the following: a high proportion of fishers reported sharing information, though fewer than a third of reported ties were reciprocated; subgroups existed in which greater information sharing occurred; and networks displayed varying levels of cohesiveness. Fishers commonly shared information with others whom they perceived to be successful, and reciprocal relationships were more common among fishers of similar success. Furthermore, fishers more central in networks had more sources of incoming information through social relationships, shared information with fewer peers, and were more successful than those who were less central. We conclude that engaging in information-sharing networks can provide benefits for Northumberland fishers, although advantages gained through social networks may not be equally distributed. Although information-sharing networks may contribute to fishing success, i.e., high lobster landings, these outcomes may not be compatible with long-term fisheries management objectives. Nevertheless, understanding the social dynamics of information sharing can help inform management strategies by identifying central fishers in information-sharing networks, who have access to a range of information on others’ fishing behavior. Such fishers may be able to assist managers in collecting information on the distribution of fishing opportunities, the state of the fishery, and the ways in which fishers use their knowledge to adapt to change and management interventions.

Key words

fisheries management; fishers’ behavior; fishing success; information sharing; lobster fisheries; social network analysis

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087