Identifying Communication Networks among Fishermen in North Carolina


Following the adoption of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (1976), both fishermen and managers realized the importance of working together.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) recognized the importance of maintaining strong ties with the fishing community. To determine ways to establish such ties, the SAFMC sponsored preliminary research through East Carolina University that would identify ways to improve communication between fishermen and the council.

The goal of this research was to identify the most influential or key individuals within the fishing community. Knowledge of these individuals could help identify who should be invited to participate in advisory panels and be involved in the planning of potential regulatory schemes.

Interviews were conducted with king mackerel fishermen in North Carolina to determine with whom they talked about the fishery. Charter, commercial, and recreational fishermen were included. Data about each fisherman's contacts were compiled to generate a social network map that demonstrated the connections the fishermen had to one another.

Methods, Tools, and Data

Social Network Analysis
The snowball sampling technique was used to identify survey participants. This technique involved asking the participants for the three individuals with whom they "talked to the most about the mackerel fishery." The individuals identified were asked the same question, and so on, until no new names were identified. Several smaller individual networks were identified within the larger network.

Cluster analysis, a statistical sorting tool, was used to understand the subgroupings of fishermen according to their patterns of relationships. Centrality measures, notably degree centrality, were used to identify important fishermen in the networks.

Fishermen were interviewed over the telephone and on-site both at home and at work. Interviews were administered by locals trained in interview administration and supervised by experienced interviewers from East Carolina University. In addition to gathering the names of individuals with whom they talked about the king mackerel fishery, the fishermen were asked about their age, experience, number of years in the community, education, membership in organizations, periodicals they subscribed to, and income generated through fishing.

Related Methods

Interviews are a method of eliciting answers to predetermined questions from one individual at a time. This method is used for gathering specific pieces of data for information analysis.
Social network analysis is a method that is used to collect, analyze, and graphically represent data that describe the relationships within and between groups of people or organizations. It can also be used to represent how people interact with specific resources.

Discussion of Results

The social network map of 238 king mackerel fishermen revealed 10 individuals who have primary importance in the larger communication network. Two individuals were identified for recreational and commercial fisheries and the remaining were charter boat fishermen.

When resource managers were asked by researchers whom they thought were most influential in the communication network, only one of the ten individuals identified by the fishermen was mentioned. None of these individuals were on the SAFMC King Mackerel Advisory Panel.

Researchers attempted to profile the more influential individuals in each of the fishing categories. Commercial fishermen were characterized by the high number of periodical subscriptions, high level of education, and membership in many organizations. The more influential recreational fishermen had higher percent income from king mackerel, much experience, and membership in many organizations.

Researchers found that the ten individuals identified by participants as most influential also had a high level of influence on each other.

Lessons Learned

Telephone interviews were as effective as on-site interviews and cost significantly less.

Research revealed that, in the area studied, individuals with the most influence usually had a high number of periodical subscriptions and were members of many organizations. If cost were prohibitive, these factors could be used to identify influential individuals in the future.

Further research revealed that some areas are far more dependent on social networks than others.


  • This project was conducted by John R. Maiolo and Jeffery Johnson.

Books and Publications

  • Maiolo, John R., and Jeffery Johnson. 1988. "Determining and Utilizing Communication Networks in Marine Fisheries: A Management Tool." Proceedings of the 41st Annual Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute. St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.

  • Maiolo, John R., and Jeffery Johnson. 1989. "Discovering Communication Networks in Marine Fisheries: Implications for Management." From Marine Resource Utilization: A Conference on Social Science Issues, Mobile, Alabama: University of S. Alabama Publication Services. Pages 69 to 80.

  • Maiolo, John R., Jeffery Johnson, and David Griffith. 1992. "Applications of Social Science Theory to Fisheries Management: Three Examples."Society and Natural Resources. Volume 5. Pages 391 to 407.