Report Synopsis

The Australian Seafood Industry and the Social Licence to Operate. Fishmongering and fearmongering in the modern market

Steven Davies

The Australian seafood industry has a long and proud history of employment of very sound environmental and economic management principles which have made it the envy of much of the world.

An altogether robust Australian seafood industry is hyper critical to the social and economic fabric of the coastal communities it supports, and it is vital this industry is maintained and – wherever possible – continually developed in a way which brings the best possible outcomes for all vested parties.

In an age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, it may be argued the Australian seafood industry and its general social licence to operate finds itself under increasing levels of attack. It is at times easy to consider there is more fearmongering than fishmongering occurring in this new age, and it is vital that the industry takes effective and collaborative steps to ensure that public perceptions pertaining to the industry are in line with the reality of the generally responsible way in which it operates.

The author visited nine countries as part of this research, including commercial fishing operations, aquaculture ventures, general agribusinesses, peak representative bodies, wholesalers, retailers, third-party certifiers and financial institutions in both developing and developed nations. The aim of the study was to understand the importance of maintenance of an industry’s social licence to operate, whilst considering consumer confidence, modern markets, investor confidence, key motivators, brand development, politically motivated policy settings and general public perception.

It is very clear that maintenance of an intangible, but critical, social licence to operate must be a key and ongoing consideration for any business, industry peak body, regulatory body, or other organisation. For an industry such as the Australian seafood industry - which relies absolutely on its right to access public resources - maintenance and development of public perceptions around the socially responsible nature of its operations is fundamental.

This report is in part an anthropological study generated from countless meetings, interviews, observations and individual and collective viewpoints. It aims to explore the concept of the social licence to operate (SLO), why it is important, how it can impact on a business or brand and steps which can be taken to ensure a business maintains it.

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