Since the late 1990s, environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs) have developed strategies to increase the market demand for sustainable seafood in order to incentivize seafood producers to change their fishing practices and improve fisheries management. Chief among those strategies are market awareness campaigns. A key component of increasing demand and market awareness is seafood certification through the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). However, many fisheries around the world are unable to meet the MSC standard and require significant improvements to become certified. In order to implement the improvements required to meet the MSC standard, many fisheries engage in Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs). A FIP is a multi-stakeholder collaborative project that brings together retailers, seafood processors, fishers, governments and eNGOs to work collectively on improving the environmental sustainability of a fishery. FIPs have become a widely promoted approach and have proliferated around the globe. However, the impacts of FIPs have been uneven across different fisheries, raising questions about what factors makes FIPs effective at implementing sustainability improvements.
In this contribution, we wish to bring attention to one aspect of FIPs that may impact their effectiveness: the structure of their social network. Firstly, we conceptualize FIPs as a governance network made of public and private actors who work collectively to achieve a common goal: MSC certification. Secondly, we elaborate on the link between network structure and the effectiveness of a FIP through the concept of social capital, defined as the resources created and available through social relationships such as trust, common norms, and accountability. Thirdly, we present the method of Social Network Analysis and relevant network statistics to measure social capital in FIPs. Finally, we suggest opportunities for further research and integration of this approach in planning and designing FIPs. Through this work, we wish to bring attention to one aspect of FIPs—their social network structure—that current FIP practitioners and researchers do not currently consider.