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The social-ecological dimensions of small-scale crab fisheries in Western Australia

Obregón Lafuente, Clara (2021) The social-ecological dimensions of small-scale crab fisheries in Western Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The pivotal role of humans in social-ecological systems has been globally recognised, particularly for fisheries, yet human dimensions are often overlooked. The blue swimmer crab (Portunus armatus) is the most popular recreational fishery in south-western Australia and also supports a small-scale commercial fishery. This study analysed the human dimensions of this fishery using qualitative and quantitative data, including those extracted from interviews with commercial and recreational fishers, newspaper records and the literature. Social network analysis was used to define the fishery network structure and communication patterns between stakeholders. Government agencies and the commercial sector were identified as key groups for information sharing within the network. The results also revealed potential logistical and institutional barriers to effective communication between different groups. Additionally, historical records and fisher surveys were used to understand fishers’ perceptions of changes in crab stocks’ through time and revealed a perceived decrease in the average size of the crabs in the Peel-Harvey Estuary, which paralleled trends evident in the literature. Non-parametric analyses of interview data on the beliefs and attitudes of recreational and commercial fishers towards stock enhancement found that fishers understand the benefits and drawbacks of this approach but considered that the benefits were more likely to occur. Further investigation identified some differences (e.g., length of the seasonal closure) and commonalities (e.g., reducing fishing and increasing compliance) between recreational and commercial fishers’ concerns and the management approaches they supported. Finally, commercial fishers voiced a feeling of marginalisation influenced by new management measures implemented in 2019. They perceived the buyout of commercial licenses as limiting their access to the resource, while the lack of a shore-based recreational fishing license was seen to support the recreational sector. These new insights into commercial and recreational fishers’ views and understanding of the resource could be utilised to provide direction for future research and management of blue swimmer crab fisheries in south-western Australia. This is the first baseline study of the human dimensions of a fishery in Western Australia and provides an important contribution to understanding fisheries’ human dimensions in Australia and elsewhere.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Environmental and Conservation Sciences
Supervisor(s): Hughes, Michael
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