Who You Speak to Matters: Information Sharing and the Management of a Small-Scale Fishery
Sustainable natural resource management requires collaboration, adaptability and coordination between science, policy and stakeholders. Communication of scientific information through social networks is integral to effective governance. This study employed social network analysis to investigate information flow between stakeholders associated with the blue swimmer crab (Portunus armatus) fishery in the Peel-Harvey Estuary, south-western Australia. Although the fishery received Marine Stewardship Council certification in 2016, a preliminary study conducted between 2017 and 2018 revealed that fishers were concerned about its status and management. Consequently, 85 face-to-face interviews were conducted with commercial and recreational fishers, academics, government bodies, representatives of fishing organizations, non-governmental organizations, and tourism operators to understand the flow of information and the influence on perceptions of sustainability. The results showed that: (i) few individuals were key for sharing information within and between different organizations forming the fishery network and only two of the six groups (government bodies and the commercial fishing sector) were highly connected and appeared as key for information sharing; (ii) after the public awareness and tourism groups, academic groups were the second-least connected, despite having actively researched the Peel-Harvey Estuary and the P. armatus fishery for over 40 years; (iii) recreational fishers exchanged information mainly with other fishers and the state fisheries department; (iv) modes of communication used with the recreational fishing sector differed greatly between the fisheries department (i.e., mainly via phone/email) and the recreational fishing organization (i.e., strong online presence, social media, and phone/email); (v) issues of inclusiveness and representativeness were highlighted for some of the groups and organizations. This is the first study looking at information-sharing patterns through an Australian fishery network. Through this research we have identified logistical and institutional challenges to communicating information regarding the science, management and environmental issues related to a small-scale crab fishery and made suggestions to enhance information flow in the network.