Importance of “social support”

For most anglers, fishing is a social activity, which makes having social support an important aspect if they are going to continue fishing. If you grew up fishing (or doing anything else) with family members and friends you know exactly how important support and encouragement can be.  Without social support, new and novice anglers often give up the activity. Unfortunately, while there is an acknowledged need, little research has been conducted on how to develop strong social support systems. Similarly, there have been very few practical, documented efforts directed specifically at creating social support.

However, efforts to create and foster social support components can and should be built into your program. Developing small group activities, rather than lecturing, can help establish social networks early in the program. Encourage and facilitate networking among program participants and  establish social support networks outside of the program when possible.

The need for social support occurs at many different levels. Researchers at Cornell University’s Human Dimensions Research Unit identified five “nested levels of social structures” that influence the adoption of hunting and shooting behaviors. These social structures are defined as the “social habitat” that encompasses the full spectrum of support that hunters and hunting require.  This habitat is provided by a host of people and social structures that extend well beyond state agencies and their partners. This structure is similar for fishing.

Figure 1. “Nested levels of social structures” proposed by researchers at Cornell’s Human Dimensions Research Unit.

The individual level of social support is closely tied to a person’s self-identity. For more information regarding a person’s self-identity see Cornell’s Hunter Recruitment and Retention in New York: A framework for Research and Action and Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Best Practices Workbook for Boating, Fishing and Aquatic Resources Stewardship Education.

If a person lacks a sense of belonging to the angling social world, they are not likely going to continue fishing. For young participants, this sense of belonging most often comes from family or friends; for young adults, it can come from a larger social network, such as friends, classmates and mentors. Food-motivated participants may belong to a food-centric group, but that group’s activities may not include fishing related to acquiring local food.

Including opportunities within your program that help participants create, enhance or express a self-identity that aligns with fishing and anglers will help to create and support the individual level of social support. Self-identity is often expressed in clothing, clothing accessories and language. However, be aware that potential participants in food-focused programs may be “different” from the current “rank and file” anglers with whom agencies are familiar, and they may express their self-identity in other ways.

The family, friends and mentor level is normally associated with “social support.” Most research on social support has focused on the individual and family levels. Research has shown that family support is a key predictor of long-term fishing participation.  Family-supported anglers are more likely to see fishing as ingrained or as a key component of their life, tend to fish at an earlier age and are more involved in fishing and fishing-related activities. Anglers who do not have family support typically start at an older age and may fish for different reasons than family-supported anglers.

In addition, the reasons people begin fishing may be very different today than they were 20-30 years ago. Food-motivated participants in your programs likely fall into this latter category. As a result, they may require different types of social support than those who come from a family of active anglers. 

The role of mentors for non-family supported anglers cannot be overstated. However, programs (and the mentors they recruit) should avoid putting too much emphasis on getting potential anglers out fishing, while neglecting to try to create the spectrum of conditions and activities that produce the socialization into the fishing culture. Socialization activities can include wild food dinners, storytelling, scouting for new fishing spots, reading about fishing or watching fishing videos, camping, shopping for fishing equipment, and a host of other fishing-related activities.

Purposefully including socialization activities that are relevant to your participants may require involving them in their design. For example, establishing social networks via social media may be effective at creating a social support structure for food-motivated participants. They may also be involved in social networks that will embrace fishing activities. Asking (and listening to feedback from) participants will be critical in the ultimate effectiveness of any social support structures created.

Other “levels’ of social support identified by Cornell include:

  • Community Support Networks
  • Local Physical and Social Landscape
  • Society at large

These levels are important to consider because they address access to fishing spots, and the larger society in which angling takes place. An important and different aspect of these social structures for food-motivated participants is the emergence of different motivations for fishing. These motivations include an important ethical decision on how to obtain food, as well as taking up fishing to become more involved as an “environmental steward” who is taking an active part in the environment. See the section on potential motivations of food-motivated or adult-onset participants for more information.

For more information regarding building social support see Cornell’s Hunter Recruitment and Retention in New York: A Framework for Research and Action.

It is important to remember that it will take conscious innovation to develop activities and actions that address the social support needs of your participants. Develop small group activities, rather than lecture, to help establish social networks early in the program. Encourage and facilitate networking and/or establish social support networks outside of the program or between sessions. Tap into existing networks that support (or may support) fishing activities if they are available.

Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Best Practices Workbook for Boating, Fishing and Aquatic Resources Stewardship Education.

Resources