Engaging within the community - key lessons from a multi-stakeholder Australian/New Zealand salmon industry workshop
Cobcroft, JM and Main, A and Fudge, M and MacLeod, C, Engaging within the community - key lessons from a multi-stakeholder Australian/New Zealand salmon industry workshop, World Aquaculture Adelaide 2014, 7-11 June 2014, Adelaide, South Australia (2014) [Conference Extract]
A recent workshop brought together a range of stakeholders with an interest in identifying best practice for community engagement and communication; they included industry and governance representatives from different sectors, as well as academics from a range of disciplines with social research interests, and representatives of several industries/ companies with specific links to salmon aquaculture. The group identified a range of issues with respect to community engagement and prioritised strategies to improve future engagement.
Community understanding of salmon farming is influenced through many mechanisms. Publicity has been shown to have a major influence on perceptions of salmon farming in the northern hemisphere. The messages and expectations generated by this publicity are frequently used to judge the performance of the industry in the southern hemisphere. People with an understanding of the industry in Australia and New Zealand know that there is a lot of misinformation in the media and that many of the issues affecting the broader industry do not translate to the southern hemisphere. Consequently a key focus of the workshop was to ascertain community perceptions of salmon farming in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), identify common trans-Tasman values, and determine any key points of distinction from these other growing regions.
The group considered a range of existing perception/ opinion/ attitude research and case studies in relation to seafood in the ANZ region with a view to identifying the current context of the industry. Through reflection on previous experience in other sectors the group identified many cases where the value of community support was underestimated. Perceptions of seafood production (farming and wild capture), and resultant purchasing and political behaviour, tend to be strongly associated with the community's prevailing cultural and social values. Even the normal planning and regulatory frameworks can also unintentionally create conflict; recent experience in New Zealand saw the regulatory process force stakeholders to legal proceedings without space to engage with the community. In hindsight, with a clearer analysis of the risks, prior engagement may have resulted in a very different outcome for the industry and community. Consequently, appropriate analysis of community perception issues (identifying both what those perceptions might be and just who is the community concerned) is critical to understanding how those perceptions might impact farming, both operationally and strategically. The presentation will summarise the key findings but the main take home messages were that there is a clear need to include community engagement (and the potential for negative impact) in future planning and business risk assessments and that both industry and regulators need to continually seek to improve approaches for engagement.